Steiner Preschools: More taxpayer-funded loopiness

Rudolf Steiner kindergartens look set to cash in on free early childhood education initiatives.

The plan of Education Minister Steve Maharey to provide 20 hours of free early childhood education reminds us that New Zealand has a wide variety of preschools, based on diverse philosophies. Perhaps the weirdest is Waldorf-Steiner schooling, which was founded by the loopy Austrian, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925).

Hundreds of schools and even more kindergartens in scores of countries follow Steiner’s system. Established in 1950, the Hastings Rudolf Steiner School and Kindergarten was the first Waldorf centre of education in New Zealand. The Federation of Rudolf Steiner Waldorf Schools was formed as an incorporated society in 1988 and lobbies the government. Today, the country has 10 Steiner-Waldorf schools or school initiatives and almost 40 Waldorf kindergarten groups. The Government gave most of them money from you and me even before Maharey’s scheme started.

The education they offer is based on the notions of Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy. He believed humanity is living in the post-Atlantis period, which started with the sinking of Atlantis in 7227 BC. After the current European-American epoch ends in the year 3573, humans will regain the psychic powers they had before the time of the ancient Greeks. Steiner claimed to be the earthly ambassador of the world-encompassing spirit of our time, St Michael. According to Steiner, a hierarchy of angels and archangels influence earthly developments. Seven leading archangels take turns to guide the evolution of humanity for 354 years at a time. St Michael’s stint as “time spirit” started in late November 1879, and Steiner declared that he himself had accepted the mission of being the Michaelic Initiate, to help guide the spiritual life of the Western World. This was an event of world historic importance that took place unnoticed. Anthroposophists regard Steiner with awe and reverence. They are as gullible as Mormons.

Anthroposophy can involve bizarre behaviour. For example, some anthroposophists sit alone or in groups to read to departed souls in order to form links from our sense-perceptible world to the “so-called dead”. They claim to receive messages of “Thank you”. Some anthroposophists ask questions of Steiner himself. Occasionally statements are circulated that allegedly came from him. The feeling that such a message evokes of loosening one’s being from the physical body is a sign that the communication is genuine.

Steiner devoted time to many interests, including education, poetry, architecture, jewellery design, astrology, biodynamic agriculture, reincarnation, karma, medicine and the creation of what he called a new art, eurythmy (mime and movement). All these topics he treated in spiritual terms. Eurythmy, for example, is supposed to manifest spiritual states of being, calling upon influences from past lives and preparing for future lives.

The benefits of anthroposophical medicine are wildly exaggerated. The pricey Helios Therapeutic Retreat in Hawkes Bay sells eurythmy, massage, music and art therapy. Although perhaps nice, these pursuits will not cure any diseases. Patients who need a loan to meet the thousands of dollars in fees are referred to a finance company in Napier. In 1921 Steiner himself started a business called Weleda that has spread internationally, selling useless ‘natural’ medicines with a spiritual approach. Waldorf schools have a reputation for opposing childhood vaccinations.

Waldorf kindergartens are based on the belief that there is a spiritual side to all of life. They focus on free play, art and craft, fairy stories, myths, eurythmy, and circle time for festivals such as Michaelmas. Waldorf teachers use the ancient idea of four temperaments (choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine) to categorise children. They might seat pupils in the classroom according to their supposed type. The Steiner approach is sometimes called racist. He believed that souls pass through stages, including racial stages, with African races being lower than Asian races and European races being the highest form. Steiner education stresses fantasy and dreaminess, which anthroposophists associate with spontaneous clairvoyance. Other quirks of the system include teaching reading late and the banning of computers until high school. Television, radio and recorded music are excluded. While this approach can stimulate imaginations, it also is based on false and nutty ideas. I wonder how many New Age people and followers of alternative healers were handicapped in grasping reality because they went to a Steiner school.

Zetetic Astronomy and other madness

In the 21st century, there are still people who believe the Earth is flat.

Mad people are among us. Reading letters to the editor and discussing issues at universities can be frustrating exercises because some people are oblivious to facts and reason. Some odd people, including radical postmodernists, are proudly hostile to science and empirical evidence. They say there are no facts, only perceptions. They describe scientific method as a mere ploy, used by elites to claim falsely that they are in sole possession of knowledge. Views that are based on empirical evidence supposedly are products of a paradigm that is no more valid than any other way of arriving at a belief.

Academics, who are reputed to have great intellects, can flaunt lunacy. I once heard a paper on religious history where the speaker tried to justify her weird conclusions by saying, “Of course, there are nonrational ways of knowing.” A university dean once urged me not to contradict the fanciful claim of the Mormon Church that a lost tribe of Israel settled America; Latter Day Saints have their own paradigm, which we must respect, she said. Another academic insisted that I should be charged with harassment if I told a group of Polynesian students that their culture’s belief in a flat earth is false.

It is hard to believe that some first-world people think the world is flat. After all, belief in a flat earth is so ridiculous that it is sometimes used in debates as an obvious example of pseudoscience or dogmatic thinking. Yet, apparently some Polynesian people are Flat Earthers, and the internet includes sites devoted to promoting this theory. There is no way of knowing how many of these sites, if any, are genuine. Given the lunacy on show in letters to the editor and universities, however, it would not be surprising if some of the writers are sincere.

Trying to follow the reasoning of Flat Earthers is instructive for Skeptics because it shows us what we are up against. Years ago, I came across a couple of books that astounded me because their authors were so immovable. One book was written by a Catholic who had an answer to every accusation ever hurled at his religion. No matter what the objection — the cruelty of the Inquisition, papal collusion with Nazism, the corrupt selling of indulgences — he staunchly made the case that the Catholic Church was God’s true church. The other book was a course in selling life insurance. No matter what objection the prospective customer raised, the book gave the insurance agent a model answer. For example, if the potential buyer objected that he could not afford insurance, the salesman was to tell him that he could not afford not to have insurance. Chiropractors take a similar line. No matter what the symptom, a regular crack of the back is the recommended treatment.

Today’s Flat Earthers sustain a line of argument that was started in the mid-nineteenth century by the English inventor, Samuel Birley Rowbotham (1816-1884). Starting with a pamphlet in 1849, he developed his ideas over three decades into a 430-page book, Earth Not a Globe, which he published under the pseudonym Parallax. Rowbotham insisted that the Earth is flat, with the North Pole at its centre. The land is surrounded by a waste of ice and snow, bordered by a huge, circular cliff of ice. The Sun, the Moon and the planets — in fact, all celestial bodies — also are flat. The Sun and Moon, each about 50km in diameter, circle the Earth and are only several hundred kilometres above us. Each functions as a spotlight, with the sun radiating hot light, the moon sending out cold light. Because they are spotlights, they give out light over only a limited area at a time, thus explaining why some parts of the Earth are dark when others are in light. Rowbotham called his model Zetetic Astronomy.

He was a tenacious debater, and modern followers of Rowbotham continue his practice of never being stuck for an answer. Doesn’t Nasa have photos to prove the Earth is a sphere? No, Nasa is part of a conspiracy; the photos are fakes, made by computers.

How do satellites orbit the Earth? They don’t. Satellite signals come from radio towers.

What about gravity? Well, the Earth is accelerating upward, as is every celestial body. This movement produces the effect known as gravity.

Debating Flat Earthers is a waste of time. So, I suggest, is arguing with Creationists, New Agers and other mad people. Their crazy minds are set. Our efforts will be most fruitful when we aim at educating people who are open to sensible ideas. Thankfully, that includes most of the population.

Defrauding the dying

Mexican cancer clinics continue to do a roaring trade, despite their poor track record.

When civil rights leader Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, the world lost a voice for decency and truth. The death of his widow earlier this year, however, was attended by greed and lies. The family of Coretta Scott King rushed her to Hospital Santa Monica at Rosarito Beach, Mexico, on 26 January. She died five days later. The underlying cause of her death was ovarian cancer. King’s death in one of alternative medicine’s dodgiest facilities highlights a relationship between quacks and Mexicans that is evil.

Hospital Santa Monica is located near crashing surf, 25 kilometres south of San Diego. The climate there may be the best in the world, consistently pleasant. Cruise ships call at beach resorts along the coast, unloading passengers who like the sunshine and the cheap peso. The region also has about 20 alternative medical clinics for desperate patients, almost all from the United States. Coretta Scott King was barely alive when she arrived in Mexico, but like the tourists, she had money. She was one of perhaps 10,000 paying US citizens who check into some Mexican clinic every year. Mexican locals and authorities welcome money from both the tourists and the sick.

Sadly, Hospital Santa Monica and the dozens of similar facilities sell patients only false hope. Kurt W Donsbach founded the Rosarito Beach facility. “The major patient clientele is comprised of cancer patients who have been told that there is no more hope, all traditional therapies having failed,” he boasts on his website. Donsbach claims to use “wholistic” techniques to treat the “whole” person; body, mind and spirit. He repeats the usual twaddle favoured by quacks: about how orthodox doctors treat only symptoms, not the disease; about detoxing the body and boosting the immune system; about avoiding standard treatments because they make cancer worse. Hospital Santa Monica offers “a very eclectic approach,” he says, including ultraviolet blood purification, mag-ray lamps, hydrogen peroxide solutions dripped into veins, ozone gas blown into the colon, a microwave hyperthermia machine (with a rectal probe), induced hypoglycemia by administering insulin, shark cartilage, a Rife frequency generator machine (remember Liam Williams-Holloway?), magnet therapy and other nonsense. Deluded groups such as the so-called Cancer Control Society, based in Pasadena, California, run trips to such Mexican clinics, taking thousands of cancer patients there for useless treatment.

Donsbach fails to reveal on his website that he has a criminal record but no medical degree. Born in 1933, he graduated in 1957 from a chiropractic college in Oregon. By the late 1960s he was running a health-food store in California, selling supplements that he said treated cancer. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he was repeatedly in legal trouble for practising medicine without a licence, selling unapproved drugs and related wrongs. In 1979 he founded a correspondence school – the nonaccredited Donsbach University – that awarded bogus degrees in nutrition, and he sold his own supplements. Officials in New York said the products were useless and sued him. Under pressure in the US, Donsbach started the Mexican clinic in 1983. In 1996 he pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling $250,000 worth of unapproved, adulterated or misbranded medicines from Mexico into the US. Sentenced to prison, he avoided serving time by plea bargaining. In other words, Kurt W Donsbach’s life has been devoted to a range of health-related scams.

The Mexican medical clinics are a blot on the page of human history, but they continue to exist because they attract money. Mexico is a very corrupt country, and bribes and fraud allow unconscionable activity to thrive there. Mexican officials claim they can investigate the facilities only if there are complaints, which are rare because the clinics usually treat non-Mexicans and do not advertise in Mexico. Sometimes clinics get shut down, but they re-open. A week after Coretta Scott King died, the Mexican government closed Hospital Santa Monica, saying it lacked authority to carry out some of its treatments and that several of its unconventional practices put patients at high risk. Patients from the US, Canada, Australia and Italy were at the facility when it was closed. Interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, Donsbach was shameless. He blamed the closure on the US medical establishment and predicted that his clinic would reopen soon: “The moment they close down a clinic, they open it up very quickly, the same place, same people.” Immoral quacks and their allies continue to fleece the dying.

David Lange vs the scholars

Checking facts should be part and parcel of academic life, but too often it isn’t done.

The late David Lange opened his 1990 book Nuclear Free: the New Zealand Way with a remarkable story. He wrote that on a winter evening in 1962, he was 20 years old and walking home near Auckland when he saw a blood-red moon and shafts of light in the sky:

They were red and white. They extended across the night like the ribs of a fan. They were spinning, they were intermingling. The sky was diffused with a ghastly brush of red. It was an unnerving spectacle. Lange’s book says he soon learned from the radio that the United States had tested a nuclear bomb by launching it on a rocket and exploding it above Johnston Atoll, which lies in the North Pacific, about 1300km southwest of Hawaii. The sight of a nuclear explosion disturbed him, Lange wrote, and he was haunted thereafter by the fear of nuclear war.

Scholars have dismissed Lange’s story. In a 1994 article in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, historian GP Taylor from Sheffield University denied that Lange or anyone else in New Zealand could have seen any such display. In the perverse article — the point of which was to justify France’s bombing of the Rainbow Warrior — Taylor wrote:

His religious upbringing coupled with a lively imagination seem to have affected Lange here. Johnston Island is over 4000 miles from New Zealand and the impression he gives of what he saw was impossible from that distance.

It would have been easy for Taylor to check the facts. He simply had to look in the New Zealand Herald for the winter days of 1962 to see if there were reports of a spectacle in the evening sky. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History is a refereed periodical, and it would have been easy for the anonymous referees of Taylor’s article also to check his claim that Lange’s story was false. None of these scholars did the job. In fact, a big photograph of the sight covered the top of the front page of the Herald on 10 July 1962. The photo was captioned: “The spectacle in the Auckland sky shortly after 9 o’clock last night.” Under the headline ‘Aurora’ Lights N.Z. Sky, the newspaper described the sight:

A deep red “aurora” striped with jets of white light swept in a broad band over the New Zealand sky after 9 p.m. last night — seconds after a United States task force exploded a high altitude nuclear device of “megaton-plus” power over Johnston Island — 4000 miles to the north.

Watchers from Whangarei to Central Otago reported the eerie glow. An astronomer theorised in his Herald column that the results of the blast were visible in the South Pacific because:

“the electrons released by the bomb dropped quickly to the level where auroras normally occur, between 80 and 120 miles, and then dashed rapidly along the line of magnetic force which links Johnston Atoll with the north and south magnetic poles and which travels over New Zealand.”

After finding the story on the front page of the Herald, I wrote an article about the effect of the sight on David Lange and on the development of anti-nuclear attitudes in New Zealanders. My article mentioned how GP Taylor — and, by implication, the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History — got it wrong. I submitted the article to the journal. The referees rejected the article and did not even suggest how I might revise it to make it acceptable. Neither did the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History print a correction to their earlier article.

This year, Victoria University political scientist Jon Johansson published a book, Two Titans, about Rob Muldoon and David Lange’s respective prime ministerships. Johansson repeats Taylor’s blunder, writing on page 142:

Lange’s connection of an unusually red sky to a nuclear test is also, one must add, highly implausible. The earth’s rotation alone renders Lange’s anecdote an illusory one, but illusion is also part of the anti-nuclear story, notwithstanding its central position in New Zealand’s contemporary political culture.

Neither Taylor nor Johansson nor the referees in Britain or New Zealand bothered to check whether or not the former prime minister of New Zealand was telling the truth before they alleged he was deluded. As for my article? It was published in Auckland University’s e-journal Asia Pacific Cultural Studies and is online at

The article will earn me a small tick on my PBRF report. Had Taylor published his article recently in New Zealand, then he also would get a tick. His tick would probably be bigger than mine because of the status of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History. Johansson’s book will earn him a big tick. Hopefully, the substantial issue of David Lange’s reputation will not be lost.

Mormons still opposing science

Raymond Richards
The Mormon church: anti-science and pro-repression. Still.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called the Mormon church, has long been an enemy of science and the free exchange of ideas. It is hostile to the theory of evolution, for example, and to Mormons and non-Mormons who reject the church’s claim to be the fount of absolute truth. The latest news shows that the situation is not getting any better. The Mormon church still opposes some important scientific advances and people who discuss them. The church does this because the discoveries contradict traditional Mormon doctrines and because the science undermines the claim of church leaders to be the infallible voice of God.

That the Book of Mormon is full of nonsense should come as no surprise to any skeptic. After all, it was dictated in 1830 by Joe Smith, who was not a scholar or researcher; he was a farmer’s son with an interest in the weird and a teller of tall tales. Smith had been arrested for taking money in return for using a ‘magic’ stone to look for buried treasure. He then used the same stone to pretend to translate the ancient history of America from hieroglyphics on ancient, gold plates he dug up. He said an angel showed him where to find them.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, insists the Book of Mormon is the truest book ever written and that its revelations trump research. Because the book is divinely inspired scripture, what it says goes. Scholars supposedly have it all wrong. So, when the Lord’s word says America was settled about 600 B.C. by a tribe of Israelites known as Lamanites who crossed the seas from Arabia, the matter is concluded. The Lamanites supposedly were the ancestors of the Native Americans.

Mormons who doubt this fantasy are guilty of the sin of apostasy, and the church seeks to banish them in periodic purges. In 1993, six Mormon scholars were stripped of their church membership for questioning church teaching. Others excommunicated since then include David Wright, a professor of Hebrew studies at Brandeis University who was thrown out in 1994 for writing articles that said the Book of Mormon is a 19th-century creation of Joe Smith, not an ancient text. Margaret Toscano, a classics professor at the University of Utah, was excommunicated in 2000 for writing on feminist issues after being ordered not to. The last few years have seen two famous cases of the church censoring the same scientific information. In 2002, Thomas W Murphy was a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington and chair of the Anthropology Department at Edmonds Community College. He published an article about how DNA evidence destroys the Book of Mormon claim that Native Americans are descended from Israelites. He was ordered to recant or face excommunication in a trial for apostasy. After an outpouring of public support for Murphy – a modern Galileo – the church postponed indefinitely his trial.

Most recent was the case of Simon Southerton, a geneticist who works in Australia. He was raised a Mormon, but after training as a scientist, he saw that DNA evidence contradicts history told in the Book of Mormon. Scientists have developed DNA testing to the stage where the genetic code in a drop of saliva can yield traces of racial ancestry that entered a person’s family tree thousands of years ago. Native Americans have been tracked back to Siberia before their migration to America over 14,000 years ago. They are Mongoloid in origin, not Semitic. In 1998 Southerton decided to leave the church because he could no longer believe some of its teachings. Last year, he published Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Book of Mormon. His book tells how DNA data about Native Americans does not support the Mormon belief that the continent’s early inhabitants were descendants of Israelites. Church leaders discussed the book at length with him. He told them it was odd for the church to pursue someone who had not been active in the church for seven years. After a three-hour meeting on 31 July 2005 in Canberra, church authorities excommunicated Southerton – for “having an inappropriate relationship with a woman.” Southerton does not deny the relationship, which occurred two years ago, while he was separated. He refused to discuss his personal life at the meeting, instead asking his inquisitors why he was not answering to charges of apostasy. The church representatives said that if he tried to talk about DNA, then the meeting would be completed in his absence. It is easy to read between the lines.

Dr Simon Southerton’s excommunication makes him the seventh author from the Salt Lake City-based publisher Signature Books to be expelled from the church after writing a work contrary to Mormon dogma. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which claims to have 12 million members around the world, remains a force for ignorance and repression.