Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Join the ‘A’ Week on Facebook!

If you want to help raise awareness that world is full of people that are “good without God”, then take part in the ‘A’ week on Facebook from 29th March to 6th April! Just change your Facebook profile picture to the scarlet ‘A’!

Through the ‘A’ week, it is hoped that peoples of different faiths will understand that there are much more atheists than they think, and that we can live ethical, moral, and good lives without adhering to religious dogma – don’t you just get sick of the blatant claims that fundamentalists say about atheism? So let’s take part in the ‘A’ week!

Facebook Profile on Atheist Week

That's my Facebook profile on 'A' week!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mail from A Creationist (2nd Update)

Finally! After writing my blog for over 3 months, I’ve received my 1st email challenge – from a creationist, named Chris Sanford. Let’s see what he has to say:

1a. Chris Sanford (Copied Directly)

Hey there,
    I stumbled across your blog and found it interesting to say the least. My name is Chris and I am from a different perspective than your own. So I was just wondering many evolutionist claim that evolution is a done deal, a settled fact. Yet Look at DNA for example, 1 strand of DNA contains the same amount of information that would fill 500 volumes of books, 1000 pages each. Where did this information come from? Look at the almost unspeakable intricate organelles that are contained within a single cell. This all came about by chance and luck, and blind guidance via natural selection? Evolution simply cannot answer these arguments. As I said to another contact of mine, evolution is big on philosophy but short on evidence. You see most evolutionist will say this had to happen first, and then this had to happen, yet when it comes to evidence which science is really all about, they are lacking to say the least. I would love to hear you on these issues, also I have a blogspot check it out and let me know what you think...

until we go to the ends of the earth...

Acts 1:8


Chris Sanford

1b. My 1st Reply

Hi, Chris,

First of all, thanks for emailing me, and I appreciate it. So let’s start talking.

Scientific Theories are Always Updating – So is Evolution

Firstly, you said that

…evolutionists claim that evolution is a done deal, a settled fact.

That's not an accurate claim. Nothing in science is ever a “settled fact”, since science is just a method of acquiring knowledge about the universe through the scientific method (see my post on), and thus scientific theories, and even laws are updated to become even more reliable and accurate. Thus, any evolutionist that understands science correctly will never say that evolution is absolute truth.

What we mean instead is that the process of evolution is a model that fits the current evidence, be it fossils, genes, or morphology. Until a better model is found, we’ll have to stick with evolution.

Stop Arguing from Irreducible Complexity, Really

You claimed that

1 strand of DNA contains the same amount of information that would fill 500 volumes of books, 1000 pages each. Where did this information come from?

and asked me to

Look at the almost unspeakable intricate organelles that are contained within a single cell.

This is known as the irreducible complexity argument – one stating that something in an organism is too complex to have evolved naturally. That' has been refuted for so much times that’s it’s old. But I’ll explain it again here.

Let’s start with DNA. According to the Oxford Compact Dictionary, information means

1 facts or knowledge provided or learned.
2 what is conveyed or represented by a particular sequence of symbols, impulses, etc.

Now, the information in dictionaries fit both the definition of 1 and 2, while the genetic code only fits definition 2. Plus, DNA isn’t something that is read and interpreted by a mind, it’s just a chemical that’s a major player in the synthesis of amino acids, so I don’t think you can compare it directly to the information in books.

Anyway, it does seem taunting. How is it possible that these 3 billion genes can create a such a complex organism, if it wasn’t designed intelligently? But do note that we didn’t start off as complex organisms – the Theory of Evolution predicts that we evolved first from extremely simple, self-replicating chemical structures. These organisms had a poorly functioning and extremely simple genetic code compared to what we have now, and thus they would be extremely simple in their structure as well.

But natural selection is the one that makes the difference. When the organisms replicate, there will be genetic mutations inevitably, and thus there will be variation between the organisms. Some organisms will thus be better suited to the environment, and survive long enough to replicate, while those with inferior functioning genetic code will get eliminated from the gene pool quickly. Repeat this process of weeding out “bad” genes and retaining the “good” ones for 4 billion years, and it isn’t hard to see why we have such a nicely functioning body, with such complex cells.

Look at My Answering Creationist Claims Series

Lastly, you said that evolution is

…big on philosophy but short on evidence.

So do me a favour and look at my Answering Creationist Claims series – you can find them through the blog archive. And while you’re at it, why not present some evidence for creationism/intelligent design? ;-)

I hope this has been sufficient to answer your questions, and I’ll wait for your reply.

Darren Wong

2a. Chris Sanford

Hey there, first of all thank you for responding to my email. I love an intelligent conversation. So let's address your comments one by one. You say that no scientist would say that evolution is would never say that evolution is a fact?

"Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system."  Barbara C Forrest and Paul R Gross, Oxford University Press, 2003

"Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. The evidence for evolution is at least as strong as the evidence for the holocaust. Richard Dawkins "the Greatest show on earth.

So are you saying that Richard Dawkins who is the top evoutionist in the world, who also claims that evolution is a fact does not understand science correctly. Let me rephrase that, that is exactly what you are saying with your own words. So there seems to be some disagreement with you in your own scientific community.

Secondly you say that we started off as simple celled organisms, that were in your own words "extremely simple". While this is a good idea, where is the evidence to prove this? When have we ever in life, ever seen a single cell that is simple? Also you mention mutations must have occurred. Do you have evidence to prove that they occurred, or again is this where evolution is big on philosophy and short on the evidence. Can you name one, not 10, or even 100, simply one mutation that has added information to the genome. You see here is the thing, mutations are harmful to the organism and never helpful. I know of not one mutation that has added information to the genome. Yet I am not the only one who cannot come up with one instance of a mutation adding information to the genome. Here is another man whom you surely know who cannot come up with one instance of a mutation adding information to the genome.

I would love to present you with some evidence for Creation.

The 2nd law of thermodynamics or entropy is definitely not an evolutionists’ best friend. Entropy affects everything in our universe, from you car to your body (as the Bible says our body is wearing out) to the planet and the sun and every aspect of our universe. Entropy is simply the law that everything is moving from a state of order to a state of chaos. In other words everything is breaking down on a cosmic scale. We are running out of gas, we are running out of energy. If you break a branch off a tree and throw it on the ground, entropy is going to take place, the stick is not going to become a tree, but it is going to break down and rot. It is going to move from a state of order ( a stick) to a state of disorder (mulch). And here you thought this was going to be difficult to understand. Now I think the point definitely needs to be emphasized that this is a law of science! The 2nd law of thermodynamics. For anything to become a law of science it must be proven without any contradictory evidence. There are only about 6 laws of science that exist. I have a list of them and most of them I cannot understand. This one I can. The Bible again and again says that the world is growing old like a garment, and wearing out. Guess what God is telling us about the 2nd law of thermodynamics long before it ever discovered by man. Oh the wisdom and intelligence of God. Who can measure the depths of His understanding??!! Now this is a law of science. Everything is getting worse. Do you see where the contradiction lies now? Evolution teaches that everything is getting better, that our world started out a barren wasteland with poisonous gases and all these things and it is getting better. Yet a law of science proves the very opposite is true. The Bible says the very same thing, so the only place that contradiction lies, is the theory of evolution and a law of science. So this law of science says that in the beginning everything was as good as it was ever going to be. Guess what?? God’s Word compliments this law of science and does not contradict it. Genesis 1:31 “and God saw all that He had made and behold it was very good”. So at the very beginning the Word of God says that it was very good. This agrees with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. Then everything began to move to a state of chaos. When did this happen? I believe when man sinned and God cursed the earth. Theologians call this the cosmic curse, that God not only cursed the earth but the whole universe itself is under the curse. At this point entropy began to take place and continues to this day. I have created a chart that will help you better realize this concept, it is an extremely vital concept for us to understand. It is not a hard one to grasp at all. Everything in our universe is breaking down. I went and played basketball on Saturday, now this year I am going to be 30 years old. Now this is Saturday I went and played basketball, and today is Monday and I am still feeling the pain. My body is wearing down, because I live in the universe, I am subject to entropy. My car is in this universe, my family, friends, computer, television, everything that exists in our universe is subject to the law of science called entropy. Keep in mind this is a law of science.

Also you said that Irreducible complexity has been refuted so many times, but all you did was offer the definition of information. You failed to offer any proof to refute this. If you mean by refuting this that organisms started out as simple, where is the evidence for this? Hope to hear from you soon...

until we go to the ends of the earth...

Acts 1:8 
Chris Sanford

2b. My Reply

Dear Chris,

Here are my answers:

Fact – But Only Because It’s The Best Model Currently

When I said that “any evolutionist that understands science correctly will never say that evolution is absolute truth”, I actually meant that he/she wouldn’t say that the Theory of Evolution is completely accurate, and doesn’t need to be updated anymore. That’s why I used the words “absolute truth” and “settled fact”, not simply “fact”.

As for the scientists who say that evolution is a fact, they only mean that evolution is a fact as far as the evidence goes. Look at what Barbara C. Forrest and Paul R. Gross said:

Evolution is a fact: as much a fact as plate tectonics or the heliocentric solar system.

What they were saying is that evolution is just as factual as plate tectonics and the heliocentric solar system. Why are these theories considered as a fact? Because the current empirical evidence supports them strongly.

And look at what Richard Dawkins said in The Greatest Show on Earth:

Even the undisputed theory that the moon is smaller than the sun cannot, to the satisfaction of a certain kind of philosopher, be proved in the way that, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem can be proved. But massive accretions of evidence support it so strongly that to deny it the status of ‘'fact’ seems ridiculous to all but pedants. The same is true of evolution. Evolution is a fact in the same sense as it is a fact that Paris is in the Northern Hemisphere. Though logic-choppers rule the town, some theories are beyond sensible doubt, and we call them facts. The more energetically and thoroughly you try to disprove a theory, if it survives the assault, the closer it approaches what common sense happily calls a fact.

Source: The Greatest Show on Earth, page 10

By saying that “evolution is a fact”, he didn’t mean that evolution was 100% accurate and undisputed, but that the evidence supports it strongly enough that it’s currently the closest model to the “fact”. Of course, if we really want to take semantics and logic so seriously, only mathematics can prove something to be a fact.

Of course, once a fossil rabbit shows up in the Precambrian Period, then the Theory of Evolution is rendered false right away. And I do admit that Dawkins can get overzealous at times.

Beneficial Mutations – Here They Are

Richard Lenski’s Long Term E.coli experiment

One of the 12 flasks containing suddenly housed E.coli that were able to utilize citrate as a source of energy at generation 31,127, when a defining feature of Escheria coli is that it can’t use citrate.

Nylon-eating Bacteria

Nylon-eating bacteria are a strain of Flavobacterium that is capable of digesting certain by-products of nylon 6 manufacture, found in 1975 by Japanese scientists in ponds containing waste water from a nylon-producing factory. The bacteria were able to digest certain by-products of nylon 6 manufacture, such as the linear dimer of 6-aminohexanoate. Since nylon never existed before February 28, 1935, this is certainly a case a mutation adding beneficial “information”, and the 3 enzymes used in the digestion of nylon by-products were not found in other strains of Flavobacterium.

The 2nd Law: Compatible with Evolution

The Law of Entropy is frequently raised by creationists in an attempt to discredit evolution, but it doesn’t work. I’ve already written about the topic here: Answering Creationist Claims (Part 7 – The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics Truthfully Explained), so I won’t be repeating them.

On a side note, if the Law of Entropy shows that evolution is false, then the same holds for “microevolution”, a term creationists love to use. Microevolution is still guided by exactly the same processes as “macroevolution” aka genetic mutations and natural selection. Thus, if you’re to insist that the 2nd Law renders evolution false, you’re also saying that organisms are unable to adapt at all, which is certainly contradictory to what’s observed.

In Science, We Can Make Reasonable Predictions

Sometimes, you’ve just can’t prove something. However, we can make rational predictions based on what’s most probable.

Let’s say that my blog’s hits is at 3000. Now, I can’t prove that I really had that much visits, since I can’t trace every single hit to the respective readers. Plus, it could be that Sitemeter is buggy and thus gave me a wrong count. But what's the most probable cause of my hit counter reaching 3000? Yes, that would be 3000 unique visits, because that’s how it works normally.

So I’m going to admit this: no, biologists don’t have concrete fossil evidence for the existence of the earliest self-replicating chemicals. However, the earliest possible fossils were found in the form of stromatolites, which date back to to the Lower Archaean eon. Within the stromatolites are possibly fossilized cyanobacteria, which are extremely simple in structure and look like small rods. From that point on, fossils keep on increasing in complexity, and the first multicellular fossil was found to be dated at around 600 million years ago. The trend has kept on ever since (of course, unicellular organisms still exist alongside).

Based on common sense, it would be most probable that the increase in complexity of organisms has always been the trend since evolution begun. So if we reverse the process, what do we get? Yes, organisms get even more simple as we go back in time. But even I’m wrong about the simplicity of the earliest self-replicating molecules, at least the 3.5 byr old cyanobacteria would count?

What About Other Religions?

I would also like to note that even that even if evolution is deemed false, that doesn’t mean that Biblical creation is true. We still have other religions, remember? According to Hinduism, Brahma is responsible for creation, Buddhism states that thoughts and desire are the reason we’re in this universe, the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians all have their own hypotheses for explaining the presence of life. To determine which hypothesis is true, and which isn’t, we need to provide scientific evidence.

So you say that God created entropy after men sinned? Well, show evidence that the Garden of Eden is true. Plus, evidence that God created birds before mammals and reptiles.

Darren Wong

PS: Would you separate your passages into smaller chunks? Thanks. :-)

3a. Chris Sanford

Hey thank you again for another very interesting email. When you are talking about theory, you wrote "Why are these theories considered as a fact?" A Theory is not a fact, that is why it is called a theory. The only "facts" in science are the scientific laws which about only 7 exist in the scientific world. I really think that we need to get our ducks in a row when it comes to this issue. Also as far as the best theory that is possible, that is a pretty sad testimony for the theory of evolution. When it comes to the evidence concerning Intelligent Design, the evidence for a Creator is overwhelming. Have you ever looked at the evidence for a Creator Darren?

As far as the 2nd Law of thermodynamics is concerned. Basically this law states that everything is moving from a state of order to a state of chaos. Basically we are running out of usable energy. The problem is simply this, it cannot be compatible with evolution because if our solar system were billions of years old, entropy would be at such a degree that there would not be life sustainable. As far as micro-evolution is concerned. It also affected by entropy. Yet these organisms did not start out simple as the evolutionist claim, but were complex at the very beginning. The fossil record shows this. Can you name one "simple organism" that has ever been found within the fossil record. What about the oldest fossils of fish we have? They are almost a picture perfect image of fish today, and the same is true with birds, etc.

As far as other religions are concerned Darren thank you for bringing this up. If there is a God, who did create the world. That would render Him pretty powerful, being powerful He would also be Intelligent. Intelligent on a scale that no one has ever seen. His intelligence would even go as far as knowing the future. So if you can find one religious book that accurately predicts the future then that would be safe to say, this is the Word of God. There is one book Darren that accurately predicts events hundreds even thousands of years in advance, and there is only 1. The Bible. The Bible is the only religious book with prophetic writing, The Biblical prophecies have come about 100% of the time. Not one Darren, not one single prophecy in the Bible has ever failed.

Let me give you some examples. Isaiah 45:1 says Thus says the Lord to King Cyrus His anointed. Here the prophet Isaiah names a king 200 years before the king was ever born. How do we know that Isaiah did not write this down after Cyrus came to power and claim to have written it down before?? The Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in 1947 prove that this Scripture was written down before Cyrus came to power! Jeremiah accurately predicted that Israel would be in captivity 70 years. Jeremiah 25:11 'This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Daniel accurately predicted Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, The Greek Empire, and many other things. Daniel 2:31-43 Out of all the religious books in the world, there is one and only one that has prophetic writing. The Bible is that book. In fact 1/4 of the Bible is prophetic writing. Many of these prophecies have been fulfilled, some are yet to be fulfilled, but not one has failed, God’s Word has a 100% track record, so it is safe to say we can put our trust in the Word of God. Many of the prophecies of God’s Word have to do with the 1st coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is prophesied something like 200 times that Jesus was to come the 1st time. We know from history that this indeed did happen.  Micah 5:2 which was written about 750 years before Christ came predicted that He would be born in Bethlehem.  Zechariah 11:12 predicted that He would be sold for 30 pieces of silver.

Now earlier you mentioned mathematics can prove something to be a fact. Lee Strobel in his book “the Case for Christ” tells the mathematical odds for Christ to have fulfilled 7 prophecies. Now keep in mind when you read this that Jesus fulfilled hundreds of prophecies. The Mathematical odds for Jesus to fulfil 7 prophecies would be the same odds as someone covering the entire earth in 4 inch by 4 inch white tiles. Hiding a gold star under only one of those tiles. And you walking up on the very 1st try and finding this gold star!! By the way you are blindfolded. That one of many tiles may be hidden in the Sahara desert, it might be hidden in Italy, it might be hidden in the country of China, or even Russia. Remember you only get one shot to try and find this star and you are blindfolded...Now you may say impossible!! Yet this mathematically is the same odds for Jesus to fulfill 7 prophecies, can you imagine what the mathematical odds are of Him fulfilling all the prophecies that He did!! Impossible right? Yet with God Darren nothing is impossible. Looking forward to hearing from you...

until we go to the ends of the earth...

Acts 1:8


Chris Sanford

3b. My Reply

Dear Chris,

Pardon me for my late reply, as I’ve been quite busy lately. Anyway, here’s my answer to your arguments:

Hypotheses, Theories, Laws, and Facts

First of all, I would to address how the 4 terms above are used in more detail.

Let’s start with facts. In science, facts are described as verifiable and objective observations, which means that its existence can be verified using the scientific method. For example, it is a fact that the Sun rises everyday, since it can verified using the scientific method and has overwhelming evidence for it.

A hypothesis is a rational and educated guess about the explanation for an observed phenomenon, but lacks evidence to support it.

A scientific theory, on the other hand, is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of hypotheses and laws that have been repeatedly confirmed through the scientific method. A theory explains a large set of related phenomena, and its details are subject to constant tweaking, but its core principle still remains. For example, the Theory of Evolution is described briefly as “descent with modification”, and while much of its details has been modified over time, its predictions still hold. Only when the core tenets of the theory is found out to be wrong is the theory considered as being false.

A scientific law is a descriptive principle of nature that manages to holds in all circumstances covered by the wording of the law. Plus, it implies a casual relationship between elements involved, is only able to describe an extremely finite set of observations, and doesn’t provide an explanation of how a phenomenon occurred; it only describes how it should work.

A common mistake to to assume that a scientific theory can become a scientific law, as there are several fundamental differences between the two. Firstly, as stated above, a scientific law only describes a phenomenon, while a theory explains one.

Plus, once it is found out that a law fails to describe even a single phenomenon that it covers, then it has to be overhauled or simply thrown out of the window; but if theory is found out to inaccurate, it’s simply modified, but rarely gets replaced entirely. A good analogy I found on is this:

An analogy can be made using a slingshot and an automobile.

A scientific law is like a slingshot. A slingshot has but one moving part--the rubber band. If you put a rock in it and draw it back, the rock will fly out at a predictable speed, depending upon the distance the band is drawn back.

An automobile has many moving parts, all working in unison to perform the chore of transporting someone from one point to another point. An automobile is a complex piece of machinery. Sometimes, improvements are made to one or more component parts. A new set of spark plugs that are composed of a better alloy that can withstand heat better, for example, might replace the existing set. But the function of the automobile as a whole remains unchanged.

A theory is like the automobile. Components of it can be changed or improved upon, without changing the overall truth of the theory as a whole.

Thus, just because something is a theory instead of a law doesn't mean it lacks evidence; in fact, it's quite the contrary. However, both scientific theories and laws have one thing in common: they're just attempts to describe/explain scientific facts, through the most reliable method possible. Thus, it’s wrong to say that scientific laws are scientific facts.

Creationism Has No Backing Evidence

You said:

Also as far as the best theory that is possible, that is a pretty sad testimony for the theory of evolution. When it comes to the evidence concerning Intelligent Design, the evidence for a Creator is overwhelming. Have you ever looked at the evidence for a Creator Darren?

Let me make it clear: evolution is a theory well-supported by the evidence. Evidence for it from includes genetics, fossils, which are laid out exactly as evolution predicts, comparative anatomy, embryology and has been observed in real life. While I did not elaborate much on the evidence for evolution in my blog, I’ve already answered quite some attempts to “disprove” evolution in my Answering Creationist Claims series, and in my previous email to you on beneficial mutations. These include the no-transitional fossils argument, the irreducible complexity argument, the bird argument, the fixity of species argument, the entropy argument (read this again), the young-earth argument etc. So take a look at them, and have those replies considered deeply.

Now let’s consider creationism. For Biblical creation to be true, there needs to be a large amount of empirical evidence available for the Garden of Eden, creation of the universe within 6 days (or periods), birds coming before insects, and most importantly, that the Judeo-Christian God did it. Yet so far, there’s not even one peer-reviewed literature that presents any form of empirical evidence for creation.

The High Failure Rate of Biblical Prophecies

Before you say that the Bible has fulfilled every prophecies, here’s a list of those that it didn’t (there are also rebuttals on the prophecies you told me about) – Skeptic’s Annotated Bible: Prophecies in the Bible . Look at all these prophecies and refute everyone of them, or your statement that the Bible’s prophecies are 100% accurate is simply wrong.

Plus, some of the prophecies you stated were made true in the Bible (and the Dead Sea Scrolls), and since they aren’t independent sources, they’re unreliable – who knows, perhaps someone was modified the Bible for political reasons?

But let me tell you directly about one notable prophecy that failed. It is stated in the Bible (KJV) on the end of the world:

Matthew 24:34 - Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.

Mark 13:30 - Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.

Luke 21:32 - Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.

All these 3 passages have one thing in common – they state that Jesus predicted that the end would come within the lifespan of the listeners. The same statement is also reconfirmed in these passages:

Matthew 16:28 – Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.

Mark 9:1 – And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.

Luke 9:27 – But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.

So tell me, has the end of the world come yet? Has the kingdom of the Judeo-Christian God come to power? If not, then the Bible’s inerrancy is seriously doubted.

Yours sincerely,
Darren Wong

On a Side Note…

Chris is so much better than this fundamentalist from Bible Life Ministries.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Explaining Ghost Sightings (Part 2 – Temporal Lobe Epilepsy)

When I said that pareidolia can explain a lot of ghost sightings, I didn’t mean all of them. Sometimes the environment is bright and clear, you’re fully awake, and yet you still get that “ghostly” feeling. Scary, eh? Well, that may just be a hallucination, and here I shall tackle a common cause for hallucinations – temporal lobe epilepsy.

Defining Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

Temporal Lobe Animation

The temporal lobe would be the part in red. Only the left temporal lobe is shown.

The temporal lobe is separated into 2 parts: right and left. It’s responsible for auditory processing, processing of semantic & lexical information in speech, and long-term memory. On the other hand, epilepsy aka seizure disorder is a common neurological disorder that causes recurrent & unprovoked seizures in patients. These seizures happen when clusters of neurons fire excessively/abnormally/synchronously. Combine these two, and you’ve got temporal lobe epilepsy.

Temporal lobe epilepsy causes simple and complex partial seizures. Simple partial seizures simply cause unusual behaviours and patterns of cognition, including hallucinations and paranormal experiences; complex partial seizures can render the patient disabled and lose awareness temporarily. If one is unlucky though, it may spread and become a tonic–clonic seizure, a type of seizure that affects the entire brain, and is much more lethal.


Temporal lobe epilepsy may be caused by a variety of factors, including:

1. Hippocampal sclerosis, which is present in 2/3 of patients, and causes mesial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE).
2. Infections
3. Febrile seizures
4. Malignancies
5. Vascular malformations
6. Idiopathic (genetic), but it’s rare.
7. Trauma producing contusion/haemorrhage that results in encephalomalacia or cortical scarring
8. Difficult traumatic delivery such as forceps deliveries
9. Hamartomas

Symptoms Related to Ghost Sightings/Paranormal Experiences

Since the temporal lobe is responsible for hearing, information processing, and long-term memory, abnormal functioning in the temporal lobes will also cause these brain processes to function wrongly. Complex partial seizures are unrelated to ghost sightings, so I’ve decided not to write about them.

Simple Partial Seizures/Auras

Just to make it clear, the word “aura” in this context is defined as a “warning” before “a complex partial seizure occurs, not the pseudoscientific human/soul aura or whatever it’s called. For patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, they may have a simple partial seizure, which creates an aura, and usually leads to a complex partial seizure.

Somatosensory and Special sensory phenomena

Auras may come in the form of olfactory, gustatory, auditory, and visual hallucinations and illusions. Auditory hallucinations consist of a buzzing sound, a voice/voices, or muffling of ambient sounds. On the other hand, visual hallucinations may take the form of distortions of shape, size, and distance of objects, shrinking (micropsia) or enlarging of things (macropsia), and also tilting of structures.

Psychic Phenomena

Patients may also feel déjà vu, the feeling that’s you’ve seen something before, although you’ve not, and jamais vu, in which one suddenly feels eerie and unfamiliar to the environment, although he/she has been in the same situation before, and he/she knows it.

Patients may also experience depersonalization (feeling of detachment from oneself) or derealisation (surroundings appear unreal). “Out of body” experiences can also happen to the patient, a phenomenon known as dissociation/autoscopy. Plus, if the seizure arises from the amygdala, the patient will become fearful and anxious, sometimes to the point of having “an impending sense of doom”.

Deja vu


Here, I’ve shown that so-called ghost sightings may be caused by temporal lobe epilepsy instead of a real ghost appearing, which goes against Occam’s razor and science too much (violation of the laws of physics, anyone?)

However, I am aware that not everyone has temporal lobe epilepsy, yet many still experience its symptoms. There’s another similar cause for such experiences – electromagnetic disruption of the temporal lobe, and it’s one that I shall address next.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Explaining Ghost Sightings (Part 1 – Pareidolia)

During a debate with my friend on the existence of the soul, he raised ghost sightings as an argument for the soul’s existence. While I quickly refuted his argument, it led me to consider writing a naturalistic explanation for ghost sightings, since they’re frequently used when spiritualists argue against naturalists. I’ll start with pareidolia, a common psychological/neurological phenomenon.

What's Pareidolia?

Did your friends ever said to you: “I saw a ghost when I was walking to the toilet with my own eyes”? Or have you ever heard someone calling your name, but there’s no one around? Meet pareidolia, the tendency to interpret a vague stimulus as something known to the viewer; such as interpreting marks on Mars as canals or seeing shapes in clouds.This phenomenon is extremely common, and can be created easily. Lets see….

Alien on Mars

That's an alien on Mars...... or is it?

Alien or Tree?

That may be an alien disguising as a tree sticking its tongue towards us... Yeah that's obvious.

Evil Spirit in Womb

In addition to the ghostly female face, I also see the head of an avian-like monster beside the face, and a ghost with eyes, hands and a mouth at the centre-right of the 1st image. Something’s definitely wrong, or I simply have a great imagination.

I bet you saw the faces. And if you did, congratulations, for you're a normal human, and like all of us, susceptible to illusions and pareidolia. So if you see a ghostly apparition, don't worry - it's your mind seeing an image that vaguely resembles something you’re familiar with, in which your brain then exaggerates and modifies to be clearer.

Conditions that Cause Pareidolia

Vague Stimuli (Blurry Images/Sounds)

The brain is a gifted interpreter – it’s capable of responding to blurry face-like images and interpreting them rapidly – in fact this study suggests that it takes only 165ms for our ventral fusiform cortex to be activated, compared to 130ms for a true face. This study shows that pareidolia is an instinctive response, and not a late cognitive reinterpretation phenomenon.

Despite that, our first instincts are often wrong, and when the same object is looked more carefully and with more detail, it’s often revealed that the so-called “ghost” is an illusion after all. The best example for this would be the “Face of Mars” in the Cydonia region.

Face on Mars by Viking

Here's part of the Cydonia region, taken by the Viking 1 orbiter and released by NASA/JPL on July 25, 1976. And yes, that's the so-called face of Mars near the top.

Upon seeing the “face”, conspiracy theorists claimed that it was “intelligently designed” by Martians, and that it was located next to a city whose temples and fortifications could be seen. On the other hand, NASA and the skeptics explained that it was simply the effects of light, but the conspiracy theorists took that as a sure sign of a cover up. Until the high-res images appeared.

Face on Mars by MRO

High resolution Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2006-present) image of the "Face on Mars". Taken using the onboard HiRISE camera.

Similar high-res images were took by the NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor (1997-2006) and the European Space Agency's Mars Express probe (2003-present). All wild speculations about the “face of Mars” were put to rest, and the conspiracy theorists went silent (if not embarrassed). However, this is not the first case of pareidolia caused by vague stimuli, and will certainly not be the last.

Examples of pareidolia inducing environments (happens especially, if not only at night):

1. Half-lit hallways.
2. Toilets.
3. Dorms.
4. Camping sites.
5. Highways.
6. Quiet parks.

When You're Half-conscious

Sometimes, the stimuli doesn’t have to vague/blurry -  pareidolia can also happen when you’re aren’t fully self-aware (half awake, fatigued, sleepy etc). When we’re not fully conscious, our brains tend to misinterpret things, and pareidolia can occur easily. That’s why ghosts love to come out at night, or when you’re working overtime, or when you wake up at night. Yeah, makes perfect sense.

Evolutionary Origins of Pareidolia

Since pareidolia is literally hardwired into our brains, there must be a evolutionary advantage for our brains to see "faces" or hear "voices" when there are none. A plausible explanation is the false-alarm hypothesis (or whatever it’s called).

The False Alarm Hypothesis

Let's assume that there're 2 individuals, A & B living in the wilds of yesteryear. A is able to respond to familiar stimuli (faces, animal voices) quickly, but is susceptible to pareidolia; B doesn't respond as well, and thus never have any false alarms. In the prehistoric world (perhaps even in the modern world), A would be much more likely to survive by recognizing familiar patterns quickly, and escape on the first sign of a threat. Even it was a false alarm, it wouldn't affect  A negatively. B, on the other hand, failing to recognize patterns quickly, would be less self-aware, and fall prey to sabre-tooth tigers easily.

On a not-so related side note, I propose that we fear ghosts because they look so damn similar to the predators our ancestors had to escape from at night – blurry, vaguely resembling things we’re familiar with, making all sorts of noises, and yes, their ghastly eyes. Those who were afraid of the predators survived, while the others left offspring. Thus, when we see similar images in our lives, we still invoke a “fight or flight” response and get freaked out.


Here, I’ve put forward pareidolia as the first of my explanations for ghostly encounters, and there’s going to more. I just hope that my friends would try and take a look at my explanations, instead of simply repeating the same-ol’ argument every time. I bet they won’t though.

How about you, my fellow readers? Do you think that pareidolia manages to explain some, if not most ghost sightings? If it can’t, then why is it so?