The People’s Fair is going on this weekend. It’s an annual fair in the middle of downtown where people come and setup booths to sell things – mostly artists selling jewelery or pictures. There were some religious/psychic/woo booths around as well. Some of the booths included: a Palm Reader, Reflexology, two 9/11 “truth” groups (who I decided not to photograph since they are already paranoid), several churches, a few transcendental meditation groups, a magnet therapy group, a “Reasons to Believe” (creationist) group, a humanist group, and a Scientology booth.
The Reasons to Believe booth is pictured below. (Those signs say “Connecting people with Jesus through Science” and the small yellow sign says, “Big Bang the Bible taught it first” – uh, sure it did.)
The Reflexology booth – with their pretend “Scientific Basis” for Reflexology. Reflexology is an early 20th-century cure-all which claims to heal disease by massaging your feet. (See Penn and Teller’s episode about Reflexology and Magnet Therapy here.)
I grabbed a brochure from the magnet-therapy booth. It claims:
Here is some of what we have seen.
– Frozen arthritic hands opened after only 5 minutes wearing a double-strand bracelet.
– Intense migraine headaches disappeared within 20 minutes wearing a single strand necklace or double-strand bracelet.
Here is a partial list of the many conditions that have been relieved using magnet therapy.
Ance, Allergies, Arthritis, Asthma, Back aches, High Blood Pressure, Bunions, Bursitis, Diabetes, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Colitis, Cramps, Earaches, Fibromyalgia, Frozen Shoulder, Heel Spurs, Insomnia, Joint Pain, Menstrual Cramps, Migranes, Osteoporosis, Poor Circulation, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Tendonitis, and Tennis Elbow.
Consult a physician before using magnets during pregnancy, or if you have a pacemaker or defibrillator. The use of magnets on your abdomen within 90 minutes of a meal is not recommended.
Uh, sure. I also noticed that the symptoms treated by Reflexology were pretty much the same symptoms treated by magnet therapy.
There was also this booth:
Sure, it looks like “God Is Nowhere”, but I’ve seen them at the fair in the past. They’re actually a Christian ministry. (I think their sign could also be interpreted as “God Is Now Here”, but they keep it intentionally ambiguous.) The subtext “the mystery revealed” should give you a hint that this isn’t an atheist or agnostic group. Inside, they have a selection of books ranging from Skeptic Magazine (an old copy dating back to the year 2000), Creation Science Magazine (dating to 1996), Josh McDowell’s “More than a Carpenter”, the Quran, John Hagee, and a copy of the Darwin Awards book (uh, what?) – basically, a wide-variety of skeptical and religious books (most of them old and worn, and apparently not for sale). They seem to be trying to draw people into discussions, under the pretense of being atheists or something. I wasn’t quite sure. I was curious about what their approach might be, so I hung around the booth and looked over their literature, wondering if they would try to draw me into a discussion about religion.
I heard one guy say, “Christians say that the resurrection is the best evidence for Jesus’ divinity.” Then he picked up a book and said, “This book claims to have 80 pages proving the resurrection true.” I smiled at his pretense to being just an atheist talking to another atheist. It was rather bizarre. I thought they might be a little more upfront about their religion once you stepped into the booth, but, apparently, they maintain the pretense of being atheists while making blatantly pro-Christian arguments. Was this some sort of weird performance art? I eventually wandered off after 10 minutes or so (no one attempted to talk to me).
Wandering over to the Scientology tent, I tried to listen in as the Scientologists gave free “stress tests” to people.
While standing there, a guy with a large camera walked up behind me and took a few pictures. I turned and smiled, wondering if he was with Anonymous or something. He must’ve realized I was on his side because he walked up and started talking to me. We talked a bit, and he handed me an “anonymous” card with links to websites about Scientology. (Good luck, Anonymous guy!)
A little later, another guy next to me was looking in on people taking the “stress tests”. He asks if I believe any of this. I tell him “no”, and asks if I believe in any religion. I tell him “no” again, but I used to be a Christian. He asks me why I don’t believe, and I begin with my usual, “If God went out of his way to provide a means for salvation (Jesus crucifixion), and He loves people and wants them saved, then He would make sure the truth of Christianity was a lot more obvious. But, it’s not. Lots of people missed out because of that, and that’s contradictory with the idea that God wants to save people…” It turns out that he’s working for one of the church booths nearby. He replies that people just don’t want to believe, and then says that Jesus was unique among all religions because he’s the only one who claimed to be God. I mention that a number of religious leaders claim to be God, and bring up Sun Myung Moon (the Moonies), and that he has hundreds of thousands of followers. He’d never even heard of Sun Myung Moon. I mentioned that several other cult leaders in the US also claim to be God.
Then he makes the “morality is real, not relative” argument, and that evolution can’t explain morality or empathy. I replied that morality is a way of interacting with other human beings, and that there are some ideas about how morality could evolve. I talk about reciprocity (if you do good, people will do good back to you; if you do harm, people will want to harm you in return), and that human beings understand reciprocity. Once a creature has the ability to remember interactions with other creatures, then they can reciprocate your actions, and that means not treating other people badly. I also talk about how empathy could be a side-effect of learning by watching others. We learn to do things by watching other people do them – by putting ourselves in their shoes. But, when we put ourselves in their shoes, we are also aware of how they might feel when we do bad things to them – i.e. we empathize. He says that evolution can’t explain morality because survival of the fittest is all about immediate gratification. (Of course, survival of the fittest is not about immediate gratification – it’s about passing on our genes.) He then asks – if it’s all about immediate gratification – then why don’t we do drugs, have lots of casual sex, or gamble. I tell him that there are lots of reasons not to do those things – they might give you instant gratification, but they aren’t satisfying in the long-run. People on drugs experience lots of problems. Sex might be fun in the moment, but lots of people eventually find it hollow. And gambling will eventually make you broke.
He argues that evolution can’t explain the origins of morality – how did the first creature have a moral sense? Where did it come from? I say that the first “moral” sense might’ve developed from animals taking care of their young. It’s important for mothers to take care of their young, and even risk their lives for them. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense. If you step between a mother bear and her cub, she’ll come after you – potentially risking her life when she could run away. Birds do the same thing (acting wounded to draw predators away from their helpless young). The moral sense might’ve “started” there – with taking care of our young. Biologically speaking, animals who give birth experience an increase in oxytocin – which makes them more nurturing. And this “nuturing” behavior isn’t always directed towards our own young – oxytosin makes mammals nurturing even towards other animal’s children, and even other species. Take, for example, this case of a mother cat taking care of ducklings. (Plus, there’s a good argument to be made for sexual-selection of partners who are empathetic and nurturing.) He doesn’t really have a response other than to repeat the question about how the moral sense got started. He eventually heads back to the booth.
But, back to the Scientology booth:
I eventually sat down and took the Scientology “stress tests”. This was also the first time that I’ve seen an e-meter in person. The first thing that strikes you is just how chintzy these things are. Apparently, the “church” sells them for thousands of dollars. I’d be surprised if they cost more than $5 to manufacture. You sit down and hold two metal cylinders between your hands. It’s a little bit like holding two empty cans of Red Bull. They’re wired up to the E-Meter which has a voltage meter on it. First, you hold onto these cylinders, and he adjusts it so that the voltage meter is balancing in the middle. Then he asks you to think about things that stress you out. The meter typically moves a little to the right, which is interpreted as “you’re stressed”. My meter was barely moving. He starts asking me to think about work, money, my girlfriend, the global environment, hoping that I’ll have a response to something. But, my meter is barely moving. He tells me that I must be a very un-stressed person (which, admittedly, he’s right about). In fact, my meter starts to move to the left of center, so he has to stop and adjust it back to center. At first, I was trying to relax, but I found that even thinking about stressful things didn’t have much of an effect on the e-meter. I even tried thinking about my old boss. Still no effect. But, every time the meter moved even slightly to the right, the Scientologist said, “oh, you must’ve been stressed about whatever you were thinking about at that moment.” In my opinion, the meter didn’t have anything to do with what I was thinking about at all. He eventually said that I must be a very unstressed person and that Scientology would be very good for me because if I’m already this ‘advanced’ that I imagine how much higher I could be with Scientology. He says that Scientology is very interested in people like me because of my innate abilities. (And, I’m sure if I was very stressed, Scientology would be wonderful for reducing the stress in my life. See: they can’t lose. No matter who you are, Scientology is for you!) He then said that I should take a copy of the Dianetics book. At first, I thought he was offering it for free (I thought about taking it – only to deprive the Scientologists of the book’s printing costs), but then he said something about $20. I joked and said, “What? You’re not giving them away for free? The Gideons give Bibles away for free.” He replied that the Gideons must have some other way to offset their printing costs. But, I’m pretty sure those Dianetics books don’t cost $20 each to print.
(Read my other posts about Scientology here.)