[Book Review] The Science of Noah’s Flood


In reviewing the book, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History (Ryan and Pittman, 1998), it must be first noted that the text itself is pleasurable to read. The story of William Ryan and Walter Pittman’s in depth study of the Black Sea is one that gives wonderful insight into the process of developing hypotheses based on observed phenomena as well as the joys and tears of testing those hypotheses. Ryan and Pittman write of mystery, intrigue and even occasional suspense as their journey to discover the secrets of the geologic and anthropological history of the Black Sea, a journey that begins at the height of the Cold War and continues through the present day.

Their book prologues with a speculation of what it may have been like to witness the sudden joining of an ocean with a lake and the havoc wreaked by the volume of water; the sudden necessity to grab what one could and relocate self and family for survival; and the effect that witnessing such a violent and catastrophic act of nature may have had on a people for whom the land and water were under the control of gods or deities. Without question, this prologue is gripping and effective at gaining the interest of the reader.

Early Archaeology in the Near East
The earliest chapters of Noah’s Flood focus on the history of archaeology and geology in the Near East and include relevant anecdotes regarding discoveries of 19th century figures such as Henry Rawlinson and his work on the Behistun Rock in the Zagros Mountains (Ch. 1) and eventual decipherment of the cuneiform code, Austen Layard who excavated the Assyrian palaces (Ch. 3), and George Smith, who pieced together the Gilgamesh epic (Ch. 4). during his restorations of tablets recovered by Layard in Mesopotamia. Ryan and Pittman then leave the 19th century for the early 20th and describe Leonard Woolley’s excavation at Ur (Ch. 5) and the controversy and buzz he began “around the globe” by interpreting a 10-foot silt layer as evidence of biblical flood. This silt layer, of course, is not present at other tell sites near Ur. Ryan and Pittman tell us that it is regarded as a breach in the levee of the Euphrates and considered a “splay deposit” by modern hydrologists (p. 55).

Woolley’s misidentification notwithstanding, the common thread for each of these scientists, including Ryan and Pittman, is the hypothesis that Noah’s flood originated from a Jewish adaptation of the flood tale in Gilgamesh, which, in turn, has its origin in the Atrahatsis. Each of which are motifs of a man in favor with a god, being spared the deluge that consumes the remainder of humanity by escaping in boat (pp. 48-51). Woolley sought to confirm the historicity of the Bible (p. 55), while Ryan and Pittman set out to explain through science an event that may have had a profound effect on the human past.

The Core Hypotheses of Ryan and Pittman
William Ryan and Walter Pittman suggest several hypotheses relating to a change in sea level of the Black Sea during human prehistory. Their first contention is that the change in sea level occurred abruptly and rapidly at around 7150 years BP (Ryan and Pittman, 1998:149-150; Ryan and Pittman, 1997). Ryan and Pittman also suggest that this deluge was the progenitor for regional myths of great floods including those found in Gilgamesh as well as the book of Genesis in the Bible (1998:248-249). This contention would also imply the hypothesis that oral tradition can sustain a myth until such time that a written record could be established with the advent of the technology of writing, at least two thousand years later.

Finally, Ryan and Pittman suggest that the deluge may well be responsible for the spread of farming as a practice into Europe, Egypt and the Near East (1998: Ch. 17; Kerr, 1998). In support of this hypothesis, Ryan and Pittman have cited the sudden appearance of specific civilizations in the archaeological record and speculated that their habitation patterns were a result of cultural fears and norms as a result of their distrust for living in close proximity to major water sources such as rivers and oceans.

In support of the primary hypothesis that the deluge of the Black Sea occurred abruptly and rapidly, Ryan and Pittman cited several key pieces of evidence, most of which were obtained in exploratory expeditions to the Black Sea itself (Ryan and Pittman, 1998: Ch. 11-12; Jones, 1994). Even many opponents of their hypotheses appear to agree that the level of the Black Sea was significantly lower during the prehistory of humans who resided in the area (Deuser, 1974). Disagreement arises, however, in how fast the lake flooded to become an inland, saltwater sea. Some opponents even argue that it wasn’t necessarily fresh or significantly lower prior to 7000 years BP (Aksu et al, 2002).

Previous studies of the Black Sea sedimentology and modeling of the evolution of anoxic conditions indicated a slow progression of fill beginning 9000 years BP and ending at around 7000 years BP (Deuser, 1974). Core samples that Ryan and Pittman recovered during their expedition in the Glomar Challenger in the early 1990s contained mollusk shells at sampled from depths ranging from 123 m to 63 m (Ryan and Pittman, 1998:149; Ryan & Pittman, 1997; Jones, 1994:550). The radiocarbon dating of these samples became the main supporting evidence for the hypothesis that the Black Sea flooded suddenly rather than over a period of 2000 years. The dates of the samples were statistically the same, indicating that anoxic conditions arrived at each of the sampled depths at the same time, killing off the mollusks.

Robert Ballard and the Black Sea
In support of Ryan and Pittman’s hypothesis of a sudden filling of the Black Sea, Robert Ballard, Dwight Coleman, and G. Rosenberg (Ballard et al, 2000) discovered and documented an ancient shoreline near Sinop, Turkey at a depth of 155 m, which consisted of typical beach morphology of beach berm, a low-tide terrace, and longshore sandbar (255). Ballard et al concluded that the consistency of the shoreline as well as the lack of other shorelines in 100 m to 180 m survey range support the hypothesis that its drowning was sudden to the current shoreline. Ballard et al also sampled mollusks from depths between 140 m and 170 m, which were dated by 14C analysis (257-260). Several species each of both freshwater and saltwater mollusk were recovered, demonstrating a clear transition from a lacustrine to a marine environment. The youngest freshwater mollusk was dated to 7450 years BP and the oldest saltwater mollusk at 6820 years BP. Ballard et all concede that the gap of 640 years between mollusk types could be an artifact of sampling or may even indicate the length of time needed for a new species to immigrate (260).

Opposing Views
In opposition to Ballard, Coleman, and Rosenberg’s findings, however, Irena Popescu et al (2004) have examined the ancient shoreline of the Danube Canyon region on the opposite shore from Sinop and have concluded that the lowstand depth was 90 m and not 155 m (258). Their finding was based on the observance of both fluvial channels on the shelf that disappear below 90 m depth and a wave-cut terrace between 90 m and 98 m.

Dwight Coleman, in a personal correspondence (2004), responded that the possibility exists that the shoreline off the coast of Sinop is slightly older than the date of the flood and that the mollusks may have originated from “a shallower, younger shore.” Coleman also pointed out that an ancient shoreline appears to exist off the coast of Bulgaria at around 140 m with something evident at 90 m as well. He suggested that slumping and subsidence due to the Anatolian fault of northern Turkey could explain the discrepancy between shoreline depths.

Criticism was raised (Burkhard, 1998) that in order for the Black Sea to have been a freshwater lake, it must have had a significant outflow as with the Mediterranean Sea, otherwise evaporation would have created a salt lake. Ryan and Pittman responded to this criticism (1998, 24 April) that the existence of a freshwater lake prior to 7500 years BP is confirmed by faunal assemblages and salinity tests of seabed sediments. They also concluded that slight increases in salinity that would come from modest allowances for river discharge would be consistent with observed increases evident in carbonate mud and mollusk shells.

Ali E. Aksu is perhaps one of the more persistent and credible critics of Ryan and Pittman’s hypothesis of catastrophic infill of the Black Sea and has written or co-written no fewer than nine papers that call attention to problems with it. One of Aksu’s more convincing refutations (Aksu, et al, 2002) includes evidence of Black Sea outflow into the Marmara Sea, citing palynological data that supports an outflow hypothesis of the Black Sea across the Bosporus sill to the Marmara Sea. Aksu, et al, also points out the evidence of a delta formed in the Marmara Sea by outflow which contains the sapropel mud of the Black Sea. Sapropel is a “sludge (rich in organic matter) that accumulates at the bottom of lakes or oceans” (Cognitive Science Laboratory, 2005). This, they argue, proves that a connection existed between the two bodies of water for at least 10,000 years.

I’ll post Part II soon with references cited in both parts

Carnivals and *Not* a Carnival!

The 43rd Skeptic’s Circle is up at Adventures In Ethics and Science and Dr. Free-Ride is one sad puppy.

And don’t miss the Carnival of the Godless #49 at Grounded in Reality where Bruce offers up a dozen or so godless links without any ado. Martin at Salto Sobrius gets #50 on October 1, so mark your calendars.

And be sure to check the Carnival of the Green at Karavans on September 18 (hey, that’s today!).
And for a non-carnival that rivals most carnivals for creativity, content and variety within a single genre, visit Alun at Archaeoastronomy were he has posted his second edition of Vidi: an irregular roundup of the past on the web. I’ve been thinking that the blogosphere needs an archaeology carnival for a while, but if Alun makes Vidi a regular (or even ‘irregular’) thing, one would be redundant. If it’s writing about the past that’s informative and well-written, Alun will probably find it and consolidate it with links to other well-written pieces on blogs or elsewhere. I’ve only seen Coturnix motivated and well-read enough to a similar compilation with his “Link Love ” series (which we all miss, Bora!). If you’re interested in the past and science, particularly archaeology, link to Archaeoastronomy and visit him daily!

ArtiFACTs: Recent News In Archaeology 9/17/06

Just a quick round-up of archaeological news stories from various sources.

**Oldest Writing in the New World**
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this, though I’m sure anyone with any interest in archaeology has already read it elsewhere. The news stems from a research article in Science, Oldest Writing in the New World (Rodríguez Martínez et al. 2006). In this article, the authors describe a 26.5 pound block of serpentine referred to as the Cascajal block, which has “a hitherto unknown system of writing” that the authors have dated to about 900 BCE, the San Lorenzo phase of the Pre-Classic in Mesoamerica. The site where the Cascajal block is reported to have been found is a gravel quarry in Veracruz, Mexico (Cascajal is the site, Veracruz is the state), but the exact context is probably a bit questionable since researchers didn’t catch up to the block until after it had been removed from the site.

Alun at Archaeoastronomy writes, “This makes the discovery of earlier writing from the New World interesting, because it shows that these advances do not lead to inevitable consequences despite the claims of the Meierist school of history.” He goes on to link and cite Hooded Hawk, who “notes that Oldest Writing in the New World was offered to an antiquities dealer first which suggest that none of the words on the slab were Olmec for ‘context’.” LA Times has a decent graphic adapted from the article in Science.

Rodríguez Martínez et al (2006). Oldest Writing in the New World . Science, 313 (5793), 1610-1614.

**250 Year-Old Convenience Store Found**
And it’s not a 7-11. The French and Indian War meant soldiers. Soldiers get paid. And where paid soldiers go, close by are merchants willing to part them with their hard-earned cash in exchange for goods and services. Take it from an old soldier.

Along the Hudson River, 40 miles up-river from Albany, NY, David Starbuck leads an archaeology project comprised of volunteers and students that has been on-going for the last 5 years. Recently unearthed is the remains of a “sutler’s” establishment that sold rum, wine, tobacco and sundries to soldiers of the largest British military post in North America at the time, Fort Edwards. “Sutler” perhaps refers to the perspective that authorities or customers had on the profession of the merchants, since it comes from a Dutch word that describes “someone who performs dirty work.” I wonder if was the soldiers or the military officials that allowed their presence that perceived them as an exploitive but necessary evil? Evidence found at the site indicates that at least one sutler store may have doubled as a tavern.

**Map a Wreck Contest In the UK**
The Nautical Archaeology Society in the United Kingdom has a contest called WreckMap Britain 2006, which ends in a couple of weeks. The idea is to encourage amateur divers to record and document wrecks they dive on and submit the data to a contest that will reward the best reports with a chance to win prizes that include: a SeaLife DC500 camera including strobe and underwater housing; a dive torch (flashlight for those of us in the “colonies”) and BCD ( Buoyancy Control Device – that vest that really cool divers wear) or Dive computer; and the Shipwreck Index of the British Isles by Richard & Bridget Larn.

NAS will submit biological data to the Marine Conservation Society for inclusion in its SeaSearch project and archaeological data to “the appropriate National Archive or local Historic Environment Record Archive (eg. the local Sites and Monuments Record).”

**War shatters Lebanon’s Roman Legacy**
The recent conflict in Lebanon has caused damage to a
Roman tomb in Tyre and a medieval tower in Byblos. Roman architecture at Tyre suffered direct damage, most notably a fresco that collapsed on a tomb and the Israeli government bombed a depot near Byblos, causing a oil spill that has stained archaeological sites in the harbor as well as damaging the tower, which dates back to the time of the Crusades. This damage assessment carried out by UNESCO serves to remind us that wars fought in and by countries we don’t live in still affect us. The cultural heritage sites in the lands belong to the world in some regard. The earliest evidences of the Phoenician culture is found in the Levant where much of the fighting and destruction is occurring between people who think only of the present and little of the past. It pains me to even think of the sites that are being destroyed, looted, and ignored in Iraq, arguable a cradle of civilization, where centuries old ziggurats, temples, cities, tombs, and in situ records of the some of the earliest cultures to use writing still wait to be discovered.

Pseudo-skepticism and Pseudo-Journalism about Global Warming

I’m not a climate scientist. But I *can* read. And I try to evaluate all sides of issues that are controversial.

Its my penchant for reading and interest in climate, however, that have prompted me to follow the science involved in studying climate change and the possible anthropogenic causes. And, being the inquisitive type, I have several topics that I follow in the news. Archaeology is obviously one of them and I have Google News set to email me daily with news items related to archaeology. Another keyword that Google sends me news stories on is “pseudoscience.” And it was this keyword that landed a story from a right-wing blogger and columnist, JB Williams. His story ran in the online editions of several conservative news outlets -they may not even have print editions.

The article was titled, The Pseudoscientific Gospel According to Al Gore, and that link is but one of many. JB also includes the story in his right-wing extremist (or so it seems) blog at Newsbull, though the site seems to load rather slow if at all.

I chose the link to his article above, because this one includes a call-out or side bar that reads:

…real scientists can not establish that, a) the earth is getting any warmer or colder to begin with, b) that any temporary shift in whether [sic] conditions or climate are anything other than natural event cycles, or c) that any human behaviors in any way affect atmospheric conditions in any way [sic]

Normally I quickly ignore the rantings of right-wing extremists as quickly as I do left-wing extremists. I just don’t dig politics. I did, however, notice that his article was an example of the pseudo-skepticism that exists with those that have an agenda to propagate their political ideologies over actual science. And these pseudo-skeptics invariably resort to bad science and outright deception to accomplish their agenda. JB’s article was laden with such nonsense, the quote above being a key example, so I was moved to leave a comment. I no longer have the news outlet link that I originally accessed, but I thought it was one of those that allowed blog-type comments to be left at the end and, since I didn’t see any comments yet, I was excited to be the first to do so!

As it turns out, the comment was directly emailed and not left, much to my dismay, for public viewing. My goal wasn’t so much to write to JB Williams as it was to offer public dissent. Regardless, a brief exchange occurred between JB and myself, which I’d like to highlight here.

First Email
The first email was sent through the news site’s html form, so I don’t have a copy of it. As my memory serves, I commented on the fallacious nature of JB’s comments regarding both the science of climate change as well as his derogatory comments about Al Gore, which I implied were typical of pseudo-skepticism and pseudo-journalism. I remarked that such tactics don’t actually evaluate data and facts but attempt only to appeal to emotional and ideological opinions of readers and the ad hominem tactic of pseudo-journalists who write such op-eds are not concerned with critical analysis or inquiry because of pre-conceived conclusions on a given topic. These conclusions are all that need data and that data which contradicts them are ignored, avoided or discarded. This is what I accused JB of doing in his article.

First Response
JB wrote back within a day and his response was to counter-accuse me of not reading his article. His reasoning, apparently, was that, since he disclosed in the beginning of the article that he was “not a scientist” and had ” not spent [his] life researching Planetary Climatology,” he should be off the hook for making claims like Al Gore’s presentation was “based on his politically motivated global warming via capitalist-pig doctrine,” or that his documentary “seems to be an outright lie.” JB also goes on to quote a single dissenting voice that says, “Al Gore is wrong. There is NO consensus on global warming!” My first email to JB was to call him on this, in spite of his disclaimer, which is simply a logical fallacy of poisoning the well. If he’s so unqualified to comment on climate science, why bother writing an article that is critical? The reason, of course, is because he, like most right-wing extremists, isn’t interested in the future of the planet or whether or not global warming is real. After all, isn’t Rapture iminent? Here’s an excerpt of JB’s response:

Maybe you should read the entire piece before commenting?

I make the initial disclosure concerning my lack of personal knowledge on the subject for reason of honesty, but also to point out that this only makes me equally qualified as Al Gore on the subject.

I then proceed to quote a very well known and well respected expert on the subject who is much better qualified than Al or me, who stated that it is bunk and why, if you read his column, which I linked to the column for your convenience.

He closed his email with:

Maybe you should lay off the kool-aid and read ALL scientific opinions before simply grasping the one that suits your political agenda?

Al’s nuts. Most people already know this. Sorry you’re slow to catch up.

Of course, I had to respond. The irony of his accusation that I should read “all” scientific opinions and that I have a political agenda were killing me. I haven’t settled on the anthropogenic cause as the primary reason for global warming. I’ve accepted that global warming is happening and I also accept that the correlations of human activity to climate change are such that they cannot be ignored.

Second Email

On the contrary, I did actually read your entire rant. I was not at all impressed by your quote-mining of the single dissenting voice who claims there’s no consensus on global warming. The fact of the matter is that there *is* an overwhelming consensus that global warming is a fact, despite Lindzen’s claim to the contrary. Moreover, there are some serious questions with regard to Lindzen’s financial motivations, though I need not consider this in order to look at the over-all picture of scientific consensus.

One thing that Gore got right if nothing else (and I saw no scientific inaccuracies in his presentation), is that the fact of global warming is an inconvenient truth, regardless of whether its cause is anthropogenic or not.

Your “kool-aid” remark and ironic accusation that I should educate myself on scientific data would seem to lend more credibility to my assertion of your pseudo-journalistic style.

When discussing actual data doesn’t suit the pundit, resort to attempts at personal derision and ad hominem remarks, eh?

Thank you for the response,
Carl Feagans

Second Response
JB’s response was brief, but uninformative. His perjorative use of the word “real” with regard to the scientific community is telling and typical of the pseudo-skeptic types I’ve encountered. Again, they have a conclusion for which they only seek that evidence or data which is supportive, regardless of the veracity of the evidence or the context of the data. Moreover, a very vocal minority of dissent within a far larger majority of consensus somehow rates them as more “real,” in spite of problems with the motives and funding these very few voices.

According to the real scientific community, there is in FACT, far from any consensus on the matter. Them;\’s the facts… Ignore them if it suits your agenda…

Thanks for the exchange!

So I was moved, once again, to email JB with the reality of the consensus. My intent was to present him with clear, indisputable evidence of a scientific consensus across a wide spectrum of disciplines related to climate change and to see his response. My prediction to myself was that the response would be minimal.

My Third (and final) Email

Let me begin by apologizing if my previous email was abrupt and rude. I was on my way out the door to work and in my haste to respond to your accusation that I didn’t read your entire article I may have let emotion get the best of me. I’m not the sort who would comment on an article that I’ve not fully read.

Moving on, I find your use of “the real scientific community” interesting. Could this “real” community include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has clearly expressed the consensus of global warming in its reports? Undoubtedly, you would have some objections to the veracity of their reports, as seems popular among global warming denialists these days.

But even if we cast aside this major portion of the scientific community, we are left with others to consider:

The National Academy of Sciences (2001) issued a report called “Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions,” which began with this sentence: “Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise”

The American Meteorological Society (2003) concluded “that there is now clear evidence that the mean annual
temperature at the Earth’s surface, averaged over the entire globe, has been increasing in the past 200 years.”

The American Geophysical Union (2003) stated, “Human activities are increasingly altering the Earth’s climate,” and, “[s]cientific evidence strongly indicates that natural influences cannot explain the rapid increase in global near-surface temperatures observed during the second half of the 20th century.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (2000) has the position that “[a]verage temperatures are half a degree centigrade higher than a century ago. The nine warmest years this century have all occurred since 1980, and the 1990s were probably the warmest decade of the second millennium.”

Finally, a recent meta-analysis of climate change (Oreskes 2004) revealed that, of 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, none took a stance contrary to the current scientific consensus on global climate change. The abstracts were results from a scientific citations database using the the keywords “climate change.”

What Oreskes clearly demonstrated in her analysis is that journalists and politicians incorrectly perceive or intentionally deceive their readers and constituents that there is discord and disagreement in the scientific community.

You’ve indicated that there exists a “real” scientific community independent of the organizations mentioned above and cited below. Out of curiosity, just what are this “real” scientific community’s citations?

In case you were wondering how I stumbled upon your article at The National Ledger, I have a “Google News Alert” that sends topics with various key words like “archaeologists” and “pseudoscience.” In your case, it was the latter. The misuse of the “pseudoscience” label prompted me to write and, as I click through to the link to your home page, I see this phrase nestled in about half-way down: ” a place where if you can’t prove it, you can’t say it.” I would contend that you haven’t “proved” pseudoscience with regard to Al Gore’s presentation and if I had to guess, I’d say you haven’t seen the documentary 🙂

Forgive me if my tone in this brief exchange has appeared terse or even angry. It certainly isn’t meant to be and I’m pleased that you took the time to respond to my first email. I had assumed that I was leaving a comment blog-style on the article and didn’t realize it emailed you directly.

I hope you find the information I’ve included at least interesting whether or not you agree, and that it demonstrates that I’ve actually taken the time over the last few years to attempt to educate myself on the topic. As I mentioned in my first correspondence, I’m still agnostic with regard to the cause of global warming, but I’ve come to accept the scientific consensus that the change is occurring.

Carl Feagans


AAAS (2000). Atlas of Population and Environment: Climate Change found at http://www.ourplanet.com/aaas/pages/atmos02.html

AMS Council (2003). Climate Change Research: Issues for the Atmospheric and Related Sciences. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 84, 508-515.

American Geophysical Union (2003). Human Impacts on Climate. Found at http://www.agu.org/sci_soc/policy/positions/climate_change.shtml

National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Science of Climate Change, (2001). Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions . National Academy Press, Washington, DC.

Oreskes, Naomi (2004). The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science, 306 (5702), 1686.

JB’s Response, and the end of our exchange
I expected a minimal and even minimizing response. But even I was surprised at this:


That was it. Just a link. No discussion, no opinion. Just a link.

And this is what it boils down to with pseudo-skeptics and, apparently, pseudo-journalists: I don’t like what science says, it isn’t inline wiht my politics, and I’m not going to listen to anyone that doesn’t get on board with my politics.

I don’t level that criticism at just right-wing extremists. Quite frankly, there’s enough pseudo-skepticism and bad science to go around when it comes to supporting politics and belief. The hard part, even for the most critically minded, is to separate what we want to be true from what can be objectively observed to be true. I don’t want there to be a causal link between human activity and global warming. That doesn’t mean it isn’t so. But because humans are so driven to screw up the environment with our “progresses” in technology, also doesn’t mean that we are the cause of global warming. I’m still reviewing the data on that one and go back and forth on a near weekly basis with the new data that continues to come out. And I’m suspect of anyone that says that they “know” for sure on the subject one way or the other.

As a parting word, the pseudo-skeptical and pseudo-journalistic tactics of the JB Williams’ of the world are disruptive to observing the truth. They interfere with many controversial advancements of science ranging from stem cell research to even HIV/AIDS research. Be suspect, skeptical and critical of such voices and don’t be afraid to dissent if you know what they’re saying is bunk.

The Pseudoscience of Religious-Based Sexual Re-orientation

I try to keep my posts at least somewhat related to archaeology and anthropology, and I realize that this makes two posts in a row that deviate from that formula, but this is a topic that I had the opportunity to debate in another place recently, so I decided to edit the information that I had and represent it as a blog post. I hope someone will find the information informative.


Several religious organizations exist that claim to offer the service of “re-orientating” homosexuals back to a heterosexual sexual orientation. This “therapy” variously referred to as “conversion therapy,” “reparative therapy,” or “reorientation therapy.”

Organizations that claim to offer “therapy” to re-orientate homosexuals include the International Healing Foundation (IHF), Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX), National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH), and Exodus International among others. One of their premises is that homosexuality is a decision that can be a habit. And, as a habit, homosexuality can be broken and gays and lesbians can be therapeutically “cured” to re-orientate them back to the “norm.”

From the IHF website, they state, “[n]o one is born with same-sex attraction; [n]o one chooses to have same-sex attraction; [c]hanging from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation is possible!”

PFOX claims, “[n]o one is born gay. All scientific studies, including those by gay scientists, have not found any gay gene or gay brain center. Ex-gays are living proof that homosexual orientation is not fixed permanently.”

Exodus states that they “[uphold] heterosexuality as God’s creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside of God’s will. [Exodus] cites homosexual tendencies as one of many disorders that beset fallen humanity.”

Empirical Evidence to Support the Claim of ‘Reorientation’ of Homosexuals?

Only a few studies have been conducted that even attempt to provide some empiricism with regard to the notion that gays can be ‘reorientated’ to heterosexual. Most notably was Spitzer (2003) who used self-reported informants to document at least some “minimal” change over 5 years. Pseudo-therapy groups like NARTH base much of their claims on the work of studies like Spitzer’s -and Spitzer is probably the most recent notable effort, but the pseudoscience of reparative therapy probably began with Moberly (1983), who used no study subjects at all! She based her entire book on her own opinions based on the ancient works of luminaries like Freud.

But it’s the work of Spitzer and others that NARTH would like to cite as valid reason to assume their premises are true. The primary outcome of Spitzer’s study was that, in general, some gay men and women can change their core behaviors and appear content to be heterosexual. The problem is that the very thing that a pseudoscience group like NARTH accuses gays of (pretending) is what may be happening in their ‘reorientations!’

Criticisms of ‘Reorientation’ and ‘Reparative’ Therapy of Homosexuals

The only thing that can really be said about NARTH and other reorientation groups (assuming that even some of their anecdotes are valid) is that they are successful in getting homosexuals (or bisexuals) to favor religious pretense over sexual orientation. After all: people kill for religion; die for religion; and fuck for religion. Why wouldn’t they switch genders of their sex-partners for religion?

In addition, as Carlson (2003) noted, “It may be possible that some of [Spitzer’s] research participants might have a more fluid sexual orientation, such as bisexuality” (p. 427). Also, Spitzer’s investigation was heavily weighted toward highly religious Christian, Caucasian, middle-class individuals, thus ignoring the diversity of individuals who might seek conversion therapy. Overall, the research on conversion therapies is heavily weighted toward a homogeneous, predominantly White, male, Christian population. Shidlo and Schroeder’s (2002) participants were 90% male, 86% Caucasian, and of those who reported religious orientation, 89% Christian. Spitzer’s study was 97% Christian and 95% Caucasian and was predominantly middle-class and middle-aged.

Assumptions Made by re-orientation Groups like NARTH

Religious re-orientation groups assume that the causes of homosexuality are known and that homosexuality is unnatural, mentally unhealthy, and sinful and should be changed (Morrow and Beckstead 2004) Each of these is pseudoscientific when applied to the field of mental health.

Methodological problems with studies like Spitzer’s

(a) results were based on restricted, self-selected samples that represent a socially stigmatized population and thus capitalized on participants’ vested interests to manage self-impressions, promote their values and lifestyles, over report successes, and underreport failures;

(b) outcomes are ambiguous because participants’ idiosyncratic conceptualizations of sexual orientation, identity, attraction, and desire were not analyzed and research variables were not well conceptualized;

(c) some studies neglected to use fantasy and arousal to indicate sexual orientation;

(d) some results were based on therapists’ subjective impressions;

(e) comparison or control groups were not used;

(f) long-term, objective outcome results are unavailable; and

(g) dynamic factors, such as time, maturation, and contextual factors, were not analyzed to account for participants’ changes in sexuality and identity development process. Thus, the research base that supports the effectiveness of sexual reorientation is void of systematic, well-established methodologies that are needed to obtain valid scientific results (Wainberg et al. 2003 [Morrow and Beckstead 2004]).

In addition, O’Donohue and Plaud (1994) reviewed the evidence for learning and unlearning of sexual arousal responses and concluded that the empirical support for the conditioning or reconditioning of sexual arousal is weak. Barbaree, Bogaert, and Seto (1995) also concluded that substantive changes in the direction of one’s underlying sexual orientation might be difficult or impossible to achieve once established.

Tozer & Hayes (2004) further note that ‘reorientation’ therapy lacks empirical validation and also suggest that the main focus is to provide derisive messages about same-sex attractions. They found that most who seek “conversion therapy” are do so as an “expression of introjected messages about unacceptable aspects of homosexuality and an extension of one’s being in the early stages of gay or lesbian identity development.”


The “work” that groups like NARTH claim to do *is* pseudoscience since they base it on false premises and assumptions. Moreover, they use bad science and refuse to acknowledge the lack of empirical data to support their premises and assumptions. In doing so, they wrap their supernatural beliefs in a thin veil of “scientific-sounding” terminology and misquoted research of others.

If gays want to pretend to be heterosexual to fit into their other social groups and cults, I’ve no problem with that. That’s their prerogative. The response here, in this post, is to refute the unsubstantiated claims of NARTH et al, which are based on false premises and assumptions – an endeavor that can be called fraud.

What’s the Real Motivation for Re-Orientation?

Perhaps there are gays that are dissatisfied with their sexual orientation. I’m sure there are. Another flaw in Spitzer’s research, which I have not discussed yet, is that it doesn’t fully take into consideration the dissatisfaction that may exist in his study group because of the stigma and pressure that may be applied by their social group. In short, they may be victims of gay-bashing, homophobic bigots who belittle homosexuality because of religious superstitions with hate-filled rhetoric. In Shidlo and Schroeder’s sample (2002), they found that of the gays that went through so-called ‘reorientation therapy’ did so because of homophobic attitudes toward them. Among their sample were individuals who had initially sought therapy for depression and anxiety only to be instructed to attend ‘conversion therapy.’

Some participants were motivated to pursue treatment with the hope of saving their heterosexual marriage and keeping their children. Others entered conversion therapy through force and coercion. For example, some students in religious universities were told that noncompliance with the mandated treatment would be followed by academic expulsion or the termination of financial aid. One participant reported the following:

I am being forced to be in therapy [by a large religious university]. I sit there and agree with what he [the therapist] has to say to avoid confrontation. He is pushing me to marry a woman. My goal is basically just to graduate. (Shidlo and Schroeder 2002).

Of the 87% of the sample they studied (a full 176 individuals) reported that they failed to ‘convert’ back to a heterosexual identity. Only 13% perceived themselves as successful. Of that 13% (26 individuals), 6 refused to put a self-label on their sexual identity and 3 of this 6 were celibate!

This is the only study that I know of that bothers to attempt a quantitative look at so-called ‘conversion therapy.’ Clearly, such ‘therapies’ are problematic. Not only do psuedoscientific groups like NARTH fail to consider such data or discuss it with their consumers, but they flat out refuse to conduct any meaningful research of their own. Instead, they rely on one of the hallmark indicators of pseudoscience: anecdotal testimony.

Shidlo & Schroeder conclude with:

We found evidence that many consumers of failed sexual orientation therapies experienced them as harmful. Areas of perceived psychological harm included depression, suicidality, and self-esteem. In the case of aversive conditioning and covert sensitization, harm included intrusive flashback-like negative imagery that was associated with serious long-term sexual dysfunction. Areas of perceived social harm included impairment in intimate and nonintimate relationships. Some religious participants also reported experiencing spiritual harm as a result of religious therapy.

We found that some participants also reported feeling helped. For a minority (4%), conversion therapy provided help in shifting their sexual orientation. Others (9%) found help in HBM techniques and were content with being celibate or else accepted an ongoing struggle to contain their same-sex desire. Participants also reported other therapeutic benefits, including an increased sense of belonging, improved insight, improved self-esteem, improved communication skills, and relief from talking about sexuality for the first time. Surprisingly, some participants who failed to change reported that their failure had been a needed proof, which freed them to embrace their gay/lesbian identity with less guilt.

In the very same issue (October 2003) of Archives of Sexual Behavior in which Spitzer published, there were many sound criticisms of his work along with some support. In addition, Spitzer himself said (2003):

Are the participants’ self-reports of change, by-and large, credible or are they biased because of self-deception, exaggeration, or even lying? This critical issue deserves careful examination in light of the participants’ and their spouses’ high motivation to provide data supporting the value of efforts to change sexual orientation.

The only thing Spitzer demonstrated is that, given sufficient motivation, gays can at least pretend to change their sexual orientation. In his methodology, Spitzer reveals that his sample included individuals who self-reported with at least a rank of 60 with 0 being completely heterosexual and 100 being completely homosexual.

What!? 60!? So his cut-off for “gay” is someone who thinks they’re attracted to the same sex more often than not? Where is the control for the anxiety driven, depressed man or woman that is simply scared of their androgenous thoughts and occasional curiosity about the same sex? Why didn’t Spitzer study so-called ex-gays who were once completely homosexual?

Finally, the homosexual re-orientation movement was discredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) on August 11, 2006:

For over three decades the consensus of the mental health community has been that homosexuality is not an illness and therefore not in need of a cure. The APA’s concern about the positions espoused by NARTH and so-called conversation therapy is that they are not supported by the science. There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed. Our further concern is that the positions espoused by NARTH and Focus on the Family create an environment in which prejudice and discrimination can flourish.



Barbaree, H. E., Bogaert, A. F., & Seto, M. C. (1995). Sexual reorientation therapy for pedophiles: Practices and controversies. In L. D. & R. D. McAnulty (Eds.), The psychology of sexual orientation, behavior, and identity: A handbookGreenwood.

Carlson, H. M. (2003). A methodological critique of Spitzer’s research on reparative therapy. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 425-427.

Haldeman, D. C. (2001). Therapeutic antidotes: Helping gay and bisexualmen recover from conversion therapies. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy, 5(3-4), 117-130.

Moberly, Elizabeth (1983) Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic. Cambridge: James Clarke Company. (pp. 357-383).Westport, CT:

Morrow, Susan L.; Beckstead, A. Lee (2004). Conversion Therapies for Same-Sex Attracted Clients in Religious Conflict: Context, Predisposing Factors, Experiences, and Implications for Therapy. The Counseling Psychologist, 32 (5), 641-650.

O’Donohue, W., & Plaud, J. J. (1994). The conditioning of human sexual arousal. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 23, 321-344.

Shidlo, A., and Schroeder, M. (2002). Changing sexual orientation: A consumers’ report. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 249-259.

Spitzer, R. L. (2003). Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 subjects reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 403-417.

Tozer, E. E. & Hayes, J. A. (2004). Why do individuals seek conversion therapy? The role of religiosity, internalized homonegativity, and identity development. The Counseling Psychologist, 32(5), 716-740.

Wainberg, M. L., Bux, B., Carballo-Dieguez, A., Dowsett, G.W., Dugan, T., Forstein, M., et al. (2003). Science and the Nuremberg Code: A question of ethics and harm. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 32, 455-457.

Atheism vs. Theism in Recent News

Afarensis recently posted a short review of the Newsweek article, The New Naysayers . A bit later, PZ Myers posted a more in depth discussion at Pharyngula.

The discussions at these two blogs are well-done and the comments are interesting, so I won’t attempt to duplicate what they’ve already accomplished here. Anything I could say would pale in comparison to either of these gentlemen and I highly recommend both of the links above.

I’d first like to list some videos that can be found on YouTube that have a fair amount of Richard Dawkins’ The Root of All Evil? There may be more, but these are the ones I’ve found and I’ve tried to list them in order:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AB2vmj8eyMk (Pt 1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nVQoxrrMftA (Teapot Atheists)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kcKInudkq4 (Pt 2.1)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T27Ef_xvYMs (Pt 2.2)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPBdz-TXlaI (Pt 2.3)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTKLM09FeNM (Pt 2.4)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwD9HOrjLRw (Pt 2.5)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGLPViVW5ms (Pt 2.6)

Dawkins was one of several figures that was discussed in the Newsweek article as issuing “bone-rattling attacks on what they regard as a pernicious and outdated superstition.” Other atheistic luminaries mentioned were Daniel C. Dennett and Samuel Harris, authors of Breaking the Spell and The End of Faith, respectively. Dawkins’ The God Delusion is due out in October.

The question (sometimes the accusation) arises in many discussions with atheists, particularly on the Internet, is religion evil? Certainly the very title of Dawkins’ recent BBC series is suggestive of the question, though it should also be noted that Dawkins was against the title, The Root of All Evil? and protested. BBC won, but the inclusion of the question mark was their consolation to Dawkins. As an anthropologist, I find religion a fascinating topic. Clearly, humanity is hardwired to “believe” and to engage in magical thinking. The evidence is abundant to support this hypothesis and found in neurology, biology, and anthropology. That there are so many religions in human culture, both geographically and temporally, is suggestive that there are none which are genuine in their claims of supernatural agency.

But to answer the question of whether or not religion is evil would require two definitions: one of religion and another of evil. To define religion, I agree with Daniel Dennett’s assessment: “social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought.” I won’t attempt to define evil, I think we can all come to some mutual agreement that evil means bad for you and others. But I’m afraid I cannot agree that religion, in the broad term of the word is “evil.” Certainly, there are those within specific religions that are evil and, certainly, there are those religious sects and cults that are evil in their deeds (most cults of Christianity and Islam come to mind). But religion on the whole is a social system and is not capable of being either good or evil.

Weinberg suggested that for man to be truly evil, religion is required, but I think this also gives too much credit to a social system. I do, however, think that religion enables the worst in humanity to come out and religion has traditionally been one of the main points of contention in wars and the justification for the persecution of “others.” Religion inspired civilizations of prehistory to build monumental architecture and develop agriculture. For that, ancient religion should be praised. But, in modern times, that same ancient religion is obsolete and getting in the way of the progress it once inspired. In the United States, the most religious nation in the so-called Developed World, those that consider themselves religious have all the problems they say are immoral: abortion, addiction, crime, adultery, etc. Moreover, religious superstition threatens the advancement of science and world peace. Crime in the United States exceeds that of the rest of the industrialized West -the secular states of Scandinavia, France, Japan and the like.

Sure. This correlation is casual. I admit it. But wouldn’t the religious have more ground to stand on if they were actually able to show that religion works? Instead, the religious act as though science and atheists are actually out to eliminate them and that atheists are organizing into some “movement” that will actively seek to destroy God and his believers. A recent study in the American Sociological Review (vol 71, April 2006) reveals that atheists are America’s least trusted group:

[t]hose surveyed tended to view people who don’t believe in a god as the “ultimate self-interested actor who doesn’t care about anyone but themselves.”

Yes, atheists are self-interested. Einstein gave nothing to the world; Susan B. Anthony’s efforts were only for herself; Carl Sagan made no attempt to share his knowledge; and Abraham Lincoln was obviously only thinking of himself with the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address. The religious of the nation don’t care that atheists aren’t out to get them and refuse to accept that atheism is only about not accepting a god based on critical thought and reason. They want a dichotomy. I’m with PZ, who closed his post linked above with:

Yes, let us choose sides. I’m on the side of enlightenment and knowledge and critical thinking and the rejection of dogma. Which side are you going to be on?

Journal Watch: Recent Articles in Anthropology & Archaeology Journals

The Discovery of Anomalously High Silver Abundances in Pottery from Early Roman Excavation Contexts in Jerusalem

The authors report on a study of chemical compositions in over one thousand diachronically collected artifacts of Roman-period pottery from 38 sites in Israel. They then hypothesize the presence of silver artifacts at this or other strata that introduced corroded silver to the pottery via aqueous transport. The silver artifacts, they suggest, may have been part of the wealth of Jewish citizens, hidden underground from the Romans in the first century CE.

International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Archaeology of a Naval Battlefield: H.L. Hunley and USS Housatonic.

Conlin and Russell offer a well written discussion that summarizes the events of the battle between the H.L. Hunley and the USS Housatonic on XXX. For this reason only, the article is of value to the lay-person interested in U.S. Civil War naval battles. There’s a lot of juicy material for the archaeologist as well, which includes some discussions of the methods used in the field to obtain the data on positioning, dating, etc. The authors stress the importance of the work at this nautical site:

“As an event of world history, this first-ever engagement between a submarine and a surface ship deserves evaluation in the broadest possible historical, archaeological and humanistic context. Treating the linked shipwrecks as a naval battlefield is the beginning of that process.”

Best of all, this is a free issue of the Int. J. of Nautical Archaeology

Journal of Archaeological Science
The spiral that vanished

At Castlerigg stone circle in England, just off the A66 near Keswick sits a stone on which there was once a spiral. At one time, this spiral was believed to have been etched or carved on Stone number 11 of the circle, and a rubbing and photos exist of it, but the spiral has since vanished.

In this article in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Diaz-Andreu and her colleagues apply new, non-invasive methods of recording to the stone in order to reveal trace evidence of the spiral: laser scanning; multispectral imaging; CEI (contrast/contour enhancing illumination); MASS (multiple angle surface saturation); LASP (laser surface profiling); and ultraviolet fluorescence. LASP, it should be noted, is a different process than laser scanning and is differentiated in the article.

The results of the article are two-fold: 1) its revealed that there was no etching or carving of the spiral, which means the spiral was “painted” on, perhaps even in modernity; and 2) non-invasive, non-destructive methods are demonstrated which avoid direct contact with the rock surface and preserve the artifact itself as well as producing high-quality imaging with highest objectivity and precision.

Journal of Anthropological Archaeology
The southern dispersal hypothesis and the South Asian archaeological record: Examination of dispersal routes through GIS analysis.

The authors (Field et al 2006) of this work utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to analyze probable dispersion routes in the expansion of modern humans out of Africa. Their analyses include GIS data that incorporates “least cost route” values derived from actual slopes on the ground: routes “up and across steep slopes are more costly in terms of energy expenditure and foraging than across flat landscapes.”

Field and her colleagues conclude with their data that GIS analysis of “least cost routes” predicts that modern humans entered Asia 59-74 thousand years ago along coastal routes that began south of the Zagros Mountains that moved eastward along the Indian coast, diverting inland along the Indus and Narmada River valleys.

What’s interesting about this article, in addition to the hypothesis about modern human dispersal, is the use of GIS, a technology that is fast gaining popularity and use in the field of archaeology.

Take a look at a free issue of Archaeometry (February 2006), courtesy of Blackwell Synergy.


Adan-Bayewitz, D., Asaro, F., & Giauque, R. (2006, August). The Discovery of Anomalously High Silver Abundances in Pottery from Early Roman Excavation Contexts in Jerusalem. Archaeometry, 48(3), 377-398.

Conlin, D. L., & Russell, M. A. (2006, April). Archaeology of a Naval Battlefield: H.L. Hunley and USS Housatonic. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 35(20), 20.

Diaz-Andreu, M., Brooke, C., Rainsbury, M., & Rosser, N. (2006, In Press). The spiral that vanished: The application of non-contact recording techniques to an elusive rock art motif at Castlerigg stone circle in Cumbria. Journal of Archaeological Science, In Press,

Field, J. S., Petraglia, M. D., & Lahr, M. M. (2006, In Press). The southern dispersal hypothesis and the South Asian archaeological record: Examination of dispersal routes through GIS analysis. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, In Press.