27 Feb 2009

Evolve Beyond Belief

This isn't particularly up-to-the-minute news but the tit for tat between atheist and Christian poster campaigns is gaining momentum. Those poor Christian souls obviously don't have enough propaganda draped outside their churches that they need to inflict their mind-numbing beliefs so everybody.

"We're supposed to lie down and take it and say, 'Jesus loves you,'" argued June Griffin, spearhead of the counter-Darwin billboard campaign. "Well this is payback time." Good to see these people for what they really are. They also cannot tell the difference between education and indoctrination. Their minds are so out of date as to need pickling in formaldehyde.

However, my main reason for writing this is to stimulate some really good atheist slogans. The "There is probably no God" on London buses was just really feeble. Much better is the Freedom from Religion Foundation's "Praise Darwin - evolve beyond belief." Actually, it could have done without the "Praise Darwin" bit as a tad to fideist for my taste. "Evolve Beyond Belief" would have been good on its own.

With the self-righteous venom spat out by evangelicals, and with the money that they extort from their sheep, I think we need more adverts and more books. Any other really good atheist advertising slogans gratefully received.

17 Feb 2009

Creationist Vote Bots Target Evolution Videos on YouTube

Creationists take their propaganda war against reality another step further by trashing any YouTube video they find offensive. This is perfectly logical from their fascistic fideist doctrines and proof, if proof was further needed, that this is not just a battle of ideas but a quest for control.

Strange that YouTube are so lax about the vote bots. Either they don't care that their system doesn't pick these up or they agree with the sentiment. Either way, time to get their own vote bots and return the compliments... with interest.

After the success of the London atheist adverts cities around the world are copying this meme. Many of those original ads also get trashed by those sensitive Christian souls whose faith is so fragile that their eyes cannot bear to read something they do not like.

This is going to get worse.

In the footsteps of Galileo science must value faith and reason

In the recent edition of the Osservatore Romano (16-17 Feb 2009) there is a very short piece entitled "In the footsteps of Galileo science must value faith and reason." The message is spelled out in the first sentence, stating that scientists are called upon by the Vatican to not renounce "neither reason nor faith". To suggest that scientists do not value reason is an insult of the highest order. But the abuse of language which is one of the hallmarks of Vatican propaganda needs not only to be exposed for what it is, but also needs some explaining so as to highlight how truly misguided and false is the whole Catholic edifice.

What do we mean by reason? More importantly, what do Catholics mean when they use the word? A look at the Catholic Encyclopedia is necessary to discover what these people are really talking about. However deluded their view of the universe, they are sadly a part of it and their effects need to be mitigated. We perhaps have no argument with calling reason a cognitive faculty, but the Encyclopedia goes on to say that "Kant employed the word in a transcendental sense as the function of subsuming under the unity of the ideas the concepts and rules of the understanding. Subsequent German philosophers, as Schopenhauer complained, "tried, with shameless audacity, to smuggle in under this name an entirely spurious faculty of immediate, metaphysical so-called super-sensuous knowledge"." Now we're getting closer - and good on Schopenhauer!

"In its general sense, therefore, reason may be attributed to God, and an angel may be called rational. But in its narrower meaning reason is man's differentia, at once his necessity and his privilege; that by which he is "a little less than the angels", and that by which he excels the brutes." How we have suddenly jumped to God is left mysterious, but the previous views of Kant are not far off this. It is, however, one of the peculiarities of Catholic theology that it has a certain distaste for mystical states, hence, even though for non-believers Kant's epistemological mysticism seems very close to Christianity the scholastics noticed a vital flaw in the argument in that it undermines authority - the Church's authority. I will write about this further but just to note here that if personal mystical experiences gave true knowledge about God then everybody's experiences would be as valid as anybody else's. This could lead to a kind of heretical anarchy, which as we know from history is precisely what the Church wants to avoid at all costs.

As is often the case, the real Catholic point of view is expressed near the end of the Encyclopedia's article. And thus we find that "without certain experiences of feeling and willing we should not be able to draw certain ethical conclusions. This may be admitted as a psychological fact, viz. that there are many exercises of reason which we shall not correctly perform without an ethical habituation." There we go! Reason is thus the forming of correct judgements based on a correct ethics - not based on logic or on facts.

With this eccentric definition of reason we can go back to the original quote and see that what looked to anybody in possession of a dictionary like an insult turns out to be a double castigation. Not only do scientists have no faith - no Catholic faith - but they also lack the Catholic faculty of reason, as based on their ethics. I have to repeat this as few seem to believe me, but this abuse is a symptom of a new determination to create a Catholic science. It has to look like natural science to avoid looking as stupid as creationists but it will be guided, not only in spirit but also in the direction of research, by a Catholic ethic and the ultimate truth that there is an omniscient deity.

As the neurosciences look deeper into the operations of the brain and mind the Church is very much aware that at some point their faith will look like a mere biological process. This can be avoided by having 'reasonable' scientists who will 'faithfully' adhere to and promote the values of the Church and the legitimacy of their supernatural doctrines.

The excuse for this short article in the Osservatore was a mass in remembrance of Galileo, who is nauseatingly being recast as the scientist with a soul. The mass was the high point of the conference of the World Federation of Scientists and celebrated 445 years since the birth of Galileo. There is "in Christianity a peculiar cosmological conception, which found the highest expressions in medieval philosophy and theology." The aim is to make scientists understand this and value the opportunity to explore the fertile soil where faith and reason can be explored to their very depths. I suspect that the Vatican's actual fear is that scientists will indeed explore the depths of faith. That is why an investigation into faith through the prism of Catholic reason is necessary to achieve a reasonable interpretation of the results.


Other articles in the news

Herald Tribune

DDT - Decoy Distract and Trash

This paper may be sent to all email lists and posted on all web sites, without restriction.


(Decoy, Distract and Trash)


Steven M. Greer M.D.

Director, The Disclosure Project

Copyright 2002

A former high official at the NSA (National Security Agency) told me about a protocol informally dubbed DDT - that old poisonous chemical long-banned in much of the world. In this application, it stands for Decoy, Distract and Trash - which is what sophisticated intelligence operatives use to set up some person or group, take them off the trail of something real and important, and trash the person or the subject.

This pretty much sums up the lion's share of all things UFOlogical, with the latest example being the much-hyped Sci-Fi channel roll-out of Spielberg's mini-series, 'Taken'.

Late last spring or early summer, I was contacted by the PR firm responsible for the ramp-up to 'Taken' and was informed that they wanted to link it to Disclosure. I was told that those rolling out 'Taken' are "joined at the hip with the main stream media" and that they were going to spend a very large sum of money moving the UFO subject front-stage and center to empower Disclosure as sort of a sophisticated 'P and A' (entertainment industry jargon for Prints and Advertising that promotes a film or product).

DDT. By linking Disclosure and ensnaring Disclosure witnesses and evidence in a commercial undertaking like 'Taken' (on the Sci-Fi channel nonetheless) the ultimate DDT program can be achieved. It is not just the hijacking and trashing of serious witnesses and evidence into the silly season of 'Honey, I just had sex with aliens' routine. It is the association of important evidence, scientists and witnesses with a xenophobic titled science fiction product like 'Taken' and the entire abduction industry that can empower fear in the minds of the masses regarding all things extraterrestrial.

You will recall that no less a figure than Wernher Von Braun warned to his personal spokesperson Dr. Carol Rosin in 1974 that after the cold war, those operating behind the scenes would roll out global terrorism and then, finally, a hoaxed alien threat from outer space. Dr. Rosin gave this testimony before 9/11, by the way.

Why? Well, a xenophobic and hysterical take on visitors from space (so well represented by military hoaxed abductions made to look 'alien') would have something for everyone who enjoy secret power and control:

    For the military-industrial-laboratory-intelligence-corporate complex, there would be trillions of dollars in lucrative spending for Star Wars - now with a REAL enemy to fight! As they said in the movie Independence Day, "Lets kick alien butt..."

    For schemers wishing to unite the world in militarism and control through fear (as opposed to our common humanity and peace...) what better way to attain this goal than to roll out serious UFO evidence and link it to a body of hoaxed faux-alien encounters contained within the abduction sub-culture? People are easily herded and controlled through fear, and can there be anything more scary than evil 'aliens' floating poor, innocent humans onto UFOs to torture and sexually abuse them? Right.

    For misguided religious fanatics and secret religious cults, who pine for the long-awaited end-of-the-world, Armageddon scenario, what better fulfillment of their misinterpreted prophecy than a Final Great Battle in space?

Well, there is just something for everyone, if you can get people to buy it. But how?

All good disinformation has some real, true information contained within it. The mixing of truth with lies makes the lies believable. So by hoaxing a scary alien abduction scenario with serious data, evidence, documents and witnesses, the lie goes down so much more smoothly...

Those inside the multi-million dollar abduction industry have for years told me of suppressed testimony from abductees who recall human military operatives running the show - essentially controlling the event. Dr. Helmut Lammer and others have documented this hideous abuse of civilians by rogue covert operations. And most importantly, we have interviewed military and corporate insiders who have described in excruciating detail how they have hoaxed these 'alien abductions' - and why.

The truth is hidden in plain sight, but it is wrapped in so much deception that it is seldom seen.

One such military operative explained to me how his team had abducted key military people at one point so that they would "learn to hate the aliens" and get on board the covert Star Wars juggernaut.

When you have billions of black-budget dollars at your disposal, reverse-engineered Alien Reproduction Vehicles (see the testimony of Mark McCandlish in the book 'Disclosure' available at http://www.DisclosureProject.org/shop.htm) biological creatures made on Earth that look 'alien' and sophisticated mind-altering psychotronic weapon systems, hoaxing an 'alien abduction' is like taking candy from a baby.

And you know, the truth is so much more bizarre than fiction (even Sci-Fi channel fiction) that who will believe it?

Well, we tried. I explained all this to Mr. Spielberg's representatives at the Sci-Fi channel and PR firm, and that I would say as much if included in any of their programs. An invitation has not been forthcoming. What a surprise!

By using Mr. Podesta, President Clinton's Chief of Staff, and other notables (including, alas, some Disclosure Project witnesses) this DDT operation is attempting to jump start Von Braun's long-ago predicted hoaxed alien threat. For what could be more terrifying than linking real ET and UFO evidence and serious military and government testimony, with a xenophobic-titled science fiction product like 'Taken', along with all the other virulent and fearsome hoaxed experiences purveyed by the abduction industry? A great DDT it is.

I do not know if Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Podesta, the Sci-Fi executives, George Washington University, PBS' Ray Suarez, or others know of any of this. In most cases, most players in a DDT disinformation scheme are unwitting victims themselves. Let's hope they are.

But with power comes responsibility. And Mr. Spielberg et al have money and power and need to do their due diligence lest they be used by a DDT scheme created to ramp up Star Wars and Armageddon.

Especially Mr. Spielberg. For I have long admired his dedication to documenting the history of the Holocaust by recording the testimony of those who survived it. I worry now that he is, perhaps unwittingly, being used to unleash the worst holocaust the Earth has ever seen.

Steven M. Greer MD
Director, The Disclosure Project
October 24, 2002

For more information, please refer to Dr. Greer's paper "When Disclosure Serves Secrecy" (and other related papers at http://www.disclosureproject.org/writings.htm).

15 Feb 2009

New Bookmarks

New Bookmarks

There are times when I come across interesting content and quickly bookmark it at Infopirate. It has become quicker to do so than copying and pasting links directly into Asylum Joy. The down-side is that not 100% of the links and news items will be of interest to Asylum Joy readers, but on the up-side it means you may find interesting things you may not have considered. Some of the links will eventually be turned into full articles whereas others will have to just be left as public information.

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The Disclosure Project - CSETI, Secret Technologies, Aliens and UFOs

I rarely post news on UFOs and ETs as so much of it seems unreliable and, somehow, I don't think humans need extra-terrestrials to be cruel to each other. But sometimes I come across websites that seem to be more informative; the Disclosure Project is one of them. I copy here excerpts from their project background page.

"Beginning in 1993, I started an effort that was designed to identify firsthand military and government witnesses to UFO events and projects, as well as other evidence to be used in a public disclosure. From 1993, we spent considerable time and resources briefing the Clinton Administration, including CIA Director James Woolsey, senior military officials at the Pentagon, and select members of Congress, among others. In April of 1997, more than a dozen such government and military witnesses were assembled in Washington DC for briefings with Congressmen, Pentagon officials and others. There, we specifically requested open Congressional Hearings on the subject. None were forthcoming.

In 1998, we set out to "privatize" the disclosure process by raising the funds to videotape, edit, and organize over 100 military and government witnesses to UFO events and projects. We had estimated that between $2 million and $4 million would be needed to do this on a worldwide basis. By August of 2000 only about 5% of this amount had been raised but we decided to proceed since further delay was deemed imprudent given the serious issues involved here. So beginning in August we began creating the Witness Archive Project and we set about the task of traveling all over the world to interview these witnesses in broadcast quality digital video format. Due to the severe limitation of funds, this effort was predominantly prepared by myself and a few other volunteers roughly from August 2000 through December 2000.

As you read this testimony remember that it is indeed only the beginning. The rest is up to you: Call and demand that Congress and the President and the leaders of other countries hold hearings into this subject without delay. These witnesses welcome a subpoena so that they may officially testify under oath to what they have experienced and said here. Indeed, the most revealing testimony waits to be seen since the deepest sources are refusing to come forward until protected through official Congressional hearings.

This then brings me to my last point: The witnesses who have given testimony to date are extraordinarily brave men and women - heroes in my eyes - who have taken great personal risks in coming forward. Some have been threatened and intimidated. All are risking the ever-present ridicule that attends this subject. Not a single one of them has been paid for his or her testimony: It has been given freely and without reservation for the good of humanity. I wish to personally thank them here and extend to them my personal, highest respect and gratitude. "

Some very interesting material... but when will the masses wake up?!

Couldn't resist adding this great quote.

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."

Henry Kissinger, New York Times, Oct. 28, 1973

12 Feb 2009

Vatican Accepts Darwinian Evolution as True

The Vatican has admitted that Charles Darwin was on the right track when he claimed that Man descended from apes.

A leading official declared yesterday that Darwin’s theory of evolution was compatible with Christian faith, and could even be traced to St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. “In fact, what we mean by evolution is the world as created by God,” said Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture. The Vatican also dealt the final blow to speculation that Pope Benedict XVI might be prepared to endorse the theory of Intelligent Design, whose advocates credit a “higher power” for the complexities of life.

Organisers of a papal-backed conference next month marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species said that at first it had even been proposed to ban Intelligent Design from the event, as “poor theology and poor science”. Intelligent Design would be discussed at the fringes of the conference at the Pontifical Gregorian University, but merely as a “cultural phenomenon”, rather than a scientific or theological issue, organisers said.

The Vatican would “take the measure of an event, which has left its mark for ever on the history of science and has influenced the way we understand our humanity”. The “time has come for a rigorous and objective valuation” of Darwin by the Church, he said.

Professor Leclerc said that too many opponents of Darwin – above all Creationists – had mistakenly claimed that his theories were “totally incompatible with a religious vision of reality”, as did proponents of Intelligent Design.

Darwin’s theories had never been formally condemned by the Roman Catholic Church, Monsignor Ravasi insisted. His rehabilitation had begun as long ago as 1950, when Pius XII described evolution as a valid scientific approach to the development of humans. In 1996 John Paul II said that it was “more than a hypothesis”.

“I maintain that the idea of evolution has a place in Christian theology,” Professor Tanzella-Nitti added.

Creationism remains powerful in the US, however, notably among Protestants, and its followers object to evolution being taught in state schools.

(Times Online)

Fascinating development, but what's really going on here? The Vatican's stance is now in direct opposition to the fanatical creationists in the USA. But let us also not forget that the Catholic Church does nothing that it does not perceive to be in its own self interest. Unlike those American zealots, the Church has a history of condemning science only to later look very stupid. This is more than just loss of credibility but also, more importantly, loss of power and influence over human affairs.

The men in the Vatican may be deluded autocrats but they are not idiots when it comes to propaganda and faith. The battle over the heliocentric solar system and the Big Bang have left permanent scars, if not still open wounds for some. The botched announcement that a statue of Galileo was to be erected within the Vatican, only to then be retracted, shows that the Church is here attempting a kind of ceasefire rather than a cessation of hostilities. They can see what is on the horizon, as the neurosciences hone in on the biological system that creates absurd metaphysical beliefs. The Vatican just does not have the resources to completely stop or distort scientific research. So, with their backs against the wall the centuries-old tactic is to turn around and offer the slippery hand of friendship.

Lest anyone forget a crucial episode in recent Vatican history, this same tactic was used as Mussolini's neo-pagan fascists marched on Rome. What the Concordat of 1929 does not record, but countless other sources do, is that the real deal was that in exchange for saving the Vatican's life and creating its own state the Church would support the fascists in their rule over Italy. The Catholic Church ordered its priests not to stand against fascist politicians in elections, thereby ultimately laying the seeds of widespread support for the nascent communist ideology. At the time the Vatican did not have the resources to defend itself militarily but it still had a hugely influential network of human capital that was put at the disposal of the fascist arrivistes.

That same tactic will now be used in its more philosophical confrontation with science. Repetition is sometimes necessary, and so I say once again that the primary function of the Roman Catholic Church is to expand and control all of humanity. That is how it became what it is today and that is what keeps driving it. Sometimes assimilation is necessary rather than invasion - as we can see with their slightly bizarre attempts to bring the orthodox churches back under Vatican dominion - and this is what we are witnessing with respect to its relationship with science.

Also worth remembering that Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Inquisition for over 20 years before being elected Pope. During his reign the Catholic Church has undergone what, for it, has been a shaking of its foundations. The internal battle between modernists and traditionalists has, for the moment, been largely won by the modernists who have implemented many of the changes announced at the Vatican II Council. In the pursuit of research my enemy's enemy is often my friend. Traditional Catholics are incensed at many of these changes and this includes the attitude to science as part of a broader change of politic towards the outside world. All that scholastic navel gazing with its logical and lexical torture ended up forgetting what the Vatican's primary directive was: to convert and conquer.

"This step [Vatican modernisation] seems to me not only justified, but also necessary, because theology should serve faith and evangelization, and, for this reason, must face reality as it is today .... Therefore, it was a just and necessary step, although also a risky one .... But risk is part of a necessary adventure." said Ratzinger in 1994. Theology should serve faith and evangelization. If that means making friends with science then so be it; let this new adventure begin.

However, the new landscape becomes more treacherous and insidious to the scientist. The theological trick is always the same, has always been the same and will continue to be so in the future. The age-old trick is to state that there is a supernatural metaphysical reality beyond this natural one and that the Church has unique knowledge of this. The consequence of this - and as I said above, there must be a real consequence - is the primacy of the Vatican on matters of morals. Its moral superiority is gained through its supreme knowledge of metaphysical reality. This is the control mechanism. This is the way the Vatican will insinuate itself into every science that has a moral dimension. This is the way it will use the power of deluded faith to promote a Catholic science. Here is one very recent example of Christian propaganda masquerading as scientific truth.

This is precisely the scenario of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. This is why the Catholic press hated those books so much; they are the future. Pullman's books have a lot of history of science in them and his vision was of a world that took a different turning in the Middle Ages. Rather than science and religion coming to blows, the science was used by religion to give it the correct metaphysical interpretation. This is the battleground the Vatican loves to fight on. Arguing on metaphysical grounds is like arguing with ghosts, whilst at the same time the propaganda machine is churning out believers who will bend science by sheer numbers. If you don't believe this just look at what is happening in America. A recent poll shows 63% of Americans do not believe in evolution. 63%!! This level of mass stupidity is what we will get worldwide unless the arrow of reason penetrates deep into the heart of fideism and kills it dead.

Scientists should not be smug or complacent about this modern Catholic Church. It is the same old Church with just a new style of propaganda. As always, look at what they do, not what they say.

How many satellites does it take to cause a space crash?

Space is big, but it can still get crowded up there.

The recent collision between two orbiting satellites, including one Iridium satellite, was just an accident waiting to happen, according to debris scientists at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The fact that there even exists such a job as a space debris scientist shows that the problems are very real. The dangers are not so much to us on Earth - falling debris largely breaks up by the intense heat on accelerating through the earth's atmosphere - but rather to other fully functioning satellites.

How many satellites are there in space orbiting Earth? And more importantly, how many satellites does it take to cause a space crash? The most up-to-date data comes from CelesTrak which is funded by the Center for Space Standards and Innovation, located in Colorado Springs. As of writing there are over 13,000 satellites in orbit and over 20,500 satellites have decayed since 1957. Looking carefully at the data it appears that there are just under 3,500 satellites that are both functioning and in their correct orbit compared to nearly 10,000 that are classed as debris but haven't yet decayed. So 75% of the satellites orbiting the Earth are junk!

Just to get a sense of what a collision would mean let us look at how fast these satellites are travelling. The Moon, which is at an average altitude of 385,000 km from Earth travels at a mean straight-line speed of 3,600 km/h. A geo-synchronous Earth orbit satellite such as GEO is at 35,800 km and travels as 11,000 km/h, whereas the International Space Station is only 380 km from Earth and whizzes around at an astonishing 27,600 km/h. At these speeds, even a small piece of debris can cause serious damage to satellite instruments and sensors and larger pieces can even shunt the satellite out of orbit.

The collision quoted above happened at an altitude of about 800 km, so the real concern is that as the debris decays and falls towards Earth it may hit either the ISS or the Hubble telescope. Telecommunications satellites are usually in geo-synchronous orbits so that they appear to an observer on Earth to be in a fixed position in the sky. As seen above, they are at high altitude and do not move relative to each other, so the likelihood of two communications satellites colliding is very low. But other satellites such as spy satellites are in lower faster orbits so they can cover the whole Earth taking snapshots as they pass overhead.

The Iridium satellite phone system has 66 (now 65) satellites in fast low-altitude orbits so that they can give good reception even in the least populated areas of the globe. Users of Iridium make telephone calls in direct communication with the satellites rather than through a local mobile phone mast. Their biggest client is the US military. Luckily, there is some in-built redundancy in the system to safeguard the network against just such an accident.

So what are the world's space agencies going to do about all this space junk? the Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee was founded to monitor space junk and advise member space agencies on actions to mitigate the problems this causes to future projects. The 27th meeting of the IADC is scheduled for late March and this recent collision will no doubt be high on their agenda. But, just as it is difficult to force polluters to clean up their terrestrial accidents, it is likely to be just as difficult to get a consensus on cleaning up space.

Buzz this!

10 Feb 2009

Oath Against Modernism

Whilst digging around about exorcisms I came across the Roman Ritual of 1962. This is the standard text of all sorts of Catholic rituals updated for, supposedly, a modern audience. However, looking at the index I found this little nugget right at the very end.


"I, N.N., firmly accept and embrace each and every doctrine defined by the Church's unerring teaching authority, and all that she has maintained and declared, especially those points of doctrine which directly oppose the errors of our time. In the first place I profess that God, the beginning and the end of all things, can be known with certitude and His existence demonstrated by the natural light of reason from the things that are made, that is, from the visible works of creation, as a cause is known from its effects. Secondly, I acknowledge and admit the external arguments for revelation, namely, divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies, as most certain signs of the divine origin of the Christian religion, and I hold that these are perfectly suited to the intelligence of every age and of all men, including our own times. Thirdly, I also firmly believe that the Church, the guardian and teacher of God's revealed word, was directly and absolutely instituted by Christ Himself, the true Christ of history, while He lived among us; and that the same Church was founded on Peter, the prince of the apostolic hierarchy, and on his successors to the end of time. Fourthly, I sincerely accept the doctrine of faith in the same sense and with always the same meaning as it has been handed down to us from the apostles through the officially approved fathers. And therefore I wholly reject the heretical notion of the evolution of dogmas, according to which doctrines pass from one sense to another sense alien to that which the Church held from the start. I likewise condemn every erroneous notion to the effect that instead of the divine deposit of faith entrusted by Christ to His spouse, the Church, and to be faithfully guarded by her, one may substitute a philosophic system or a creation of the human mind gradually refined by men's striving and capable of eventual perfection by indefinite progress. Fifthly, I hold as certain and sincerely profess that faith is not a blind religious sense evolving from the hidden recesses of subliminal consciousness, and morally formed by the influence of heart and will, but that it is a real assent of the intellect to objective truth learned by hearing, an assent wherein we believe to be true whatever has been spoken, testified, and revealed by the personal God, our Creator and Lord, on the authority of God who is the perfection of truth.

Furthermore, in all due reverence I submit to and fully uphold all the condemnations, declarations, and directions contained in the encyclical letter "Pascendi" and in the decree "Lamentabili," especially as regards what is called the history of dogmas. I also reject the error of those who allege that the faith proposed by the Church may conflict with history, and that Catholic dogmas, in the sense in which they are now understood, cannot be reconciled with the actual origins of Christianity. I condemn and reject, moreover, the opinion put forth that a more learned Christian can assume a dual personality, one as believer and another as historian, thus making it permissible for the historian to maintain what his faith as a believer contradicts, or to lay down premises from which there follows the falsity or the uncertainty of dogmas, provided only that these are not directly denied. I likewise reject that method of determining and interpreting Sacred Scripture which, setting aside the Church's tradition and the analogy of faith and the norms of the Holy See, adopts the principles of the rationalists, and with equal arbitrariness and rashness regards textual criticism as the sole supreme rule. Moreover, I reject the opinion of those who hold that a teacher of the science of historical theology or a writer on the subject must first put aside any preconceived notions about the supernatural origin of Catholic tradition or about the divine aid promised for the continual preservation of each revealed truth; or that the writings of individual fathers must be interpreted solely by the data of science, without any reference to sacred authority, and with the same freedom of judgement usually accorded to any profane records.

Finally, I profess that I am far removed in general from the error of the modernists, who hold that there is nothing inherently divine in sacred tradition; or who--which is far worse--admit it in a pantheistic sense. For then there would remain only a bare simple fact, like the ordinary facts of history, to the effect that the system started by Christ and His apostles still finds men to support it by their energy, shrewdness, and ability. Therefore, I most firmly retain and will retain to my last breath the faith of the fathers of the Church, which has the supernatural guarantee of truth, and which is, has been, and ever will be residing in the bishops who are the successors of the apostles (St. Irenaeus 4. c. 26). And this is not to be so understood that we may hold what seems better suited to the culture of a particular age, but rather that we may never believe nor understand anything other than the absolute and unchangeable truth preached from the beginning by the apostles (Praeser. c. 28).

All this I promise to keep faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and to guard inviolably, and never to depart from it in any way in teaching, word, or writing. So I promise, so I swear, so help me God and His holy Gospels."

I have highlighted some phrases (the highlights are not in the original) and have also corrected some spelling errors (assume OCR bugs or sheer illiteracy).

Well, I thought it worth having here just to show how thoroughly indoctrinated even supposedly rational people are expected to be. This is a place of darkness where the spirit of enquiry, the light of reason and the proof of experience have no place.

The New Inquisition - Pope exorcist squads will wage war on Satan

I know, the headline reads like a spoof. Sadly it isn't. Here's a snippet from the Daily Mail.

The Pope has ordered his bishops to set up exorcism squads to tackle the rise of Satanism.

Vatican chiefs are concerned at what they see as an increased interest in the occult.

They have introduced courses for priests to combat what they call the most extreme form of “Godlessness.”

Each bishop is to be told to have in his diocese a number of priests trained to fight demonic possession.

The initiative was revealed by 82-year-old Father Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican “exorcist-in-chief,” to the online Catholic news service Petrus.

“Thanks be to God, we have a Pope who has decided to fight the Devil head-on,” he said.

“Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist."

Well, yes, they don't yet seem to advertise in the Yellow Pages. One thing to keep at the forefront of one's mind regarding the Vatican and its current head of state, the blessed Benedict XVI, is that in his previous incarnation Ratzinger was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, better known to most people as the Inquisition. He obviously enjoyed this job as he held the post for over 20 years. Indeed there is probably no more senior position than this other than being Pope.

There are two options here: either these people truly believe what they say, in which case they should be given therapy and kept away from the population; or they don't really believe it but it is an expedient method sanctioned by doctrine to enforce adherence to their ridiculous faith, in which case they are even more of a menace to the world and should be locked up. If they try to resurrect the Inquisition I hope some people will take them to court for cruelty and barbarism.

6 Feb 2009

Born to Believe – Review and Response

A New Scientist article, Born believers: how your brain creates God, takes us through some recent research with children that suggests belief in supernatural beings is somehow hard-wired into the human brain. The starting point is the rather unsurprising statistics that many people turn to religion in times of hardship. The afterlife may seem positively luxurious compared to being down and out.

Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human. Until recently, science has largely shied away from asking why. "It's not that religion is not important," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, "it's that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress."

This is, indeed, good to see. However, I suspect we're also going to be entering a phase where the direction of research may also be contaminated with religious ideology and it is also good to know who says what.

As anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor points out, the benefits of holding such unfounded beliefs are questionable, in terms of evolutionary progress. "I don't think the idea makes much sense, given the kinds of things you find in religion," he says. A belief in life after death, for example, is hardly compatible with surviving in the here-and-now and propagating your genes. Moreover, if there are adaptive advantages of religion, they do not explain its origin, but simply how it spread.

This is precisely my feeling on the matter. The shared delusion that may result in social cohesion can also lead that whole society to an early grave. Such dead-end cults would be difficult to find historically but we get an inkling of them in some of the contemporary suicide cults. A belief in afterlife has to also have some good excuse to live this one out fully first.

"Children the world over have a strong natural receptivity to believing in gods because of the way their minds work, and this early developing receptivity continues to anchor our intuitive thinking throughout life," says anthropologist Justin Barrett of the University of Oxford.

One thing the article fails to mention is that Justin Barrett is not only an anthropologist but also one of the founders of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Religion and Science. Barrett is described in the New York Times as a "prominent member of the by-product camp" and "an observant Christian who believes in “an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God who brought the universe into being,” [and] “that the purpose for people is to love God and love each other.” He considers that “Christian theology teaches that people were crafted by God to be in a loving relationship with him and other people, Why wouldn’t God, then, design us in such a way as to find belief in divinity quite natural?” What did I say about investigating both the research and the researcher?

Children do seem to have an innate common-sense dualism between things with minds and inanimate objects. The dualism extends to being able to conceive of minds as separate from their bodies. The common experience of having fantasy friends is one consequence of this. But some of the research seems to contradict this in that it found that children were prone to ascribe meaning and intention to natural physical phenomena – it rains so as to help plants grow, the sun shines because it keeps us warm, and so on. I'm not sure if the researchers looked deeply enough if this was a consequence of the way children's stories are written in that very often animate and inanimate objects are characters with intentions and purposes. Whatever the source of these ideas they do seem to be deeply embedded, with it being a very short step from believing in imaginary friends or disembodied minds to gods and an afterlife.

[...] religion is an inescapable artefact of the wiring in our brain, says Bloom. "All humans possess the brain circuitry and that never goes away." Olivera Petrovich adds that even adults who describe themselves as atheists and agnostics are prone to supernatural thinking.

Seeing patterns where none exist may well be an attribute of the brain but extending that to the supernatural sphere is not an obvious progression. The last piece of research quoted showed that people under stress or feeling a loss of control would be more prone to seeing patterns in random data. The results are interpreted as showing that people under stress are more likely to seek solace in meaning, even if that meaning is purely imaginary. Hence the link with the original observation that religious belief seems to increase when times are difficult.

The final message is that, whether belief says anything about the object of belief, religion is not going to be going away any time soon. Religious faith is the path of least resistance when the world around us seems to be descending into chaos. In contrast, disbelief requires more effort.

It is also interesting that this article prompted an editorial in the same edition. The editor shows a certain resignation in research showing that irrationality may well be the natural human state and that scientific understanding has not only been hard won but may also be more fragile than many of us would hope.

Weekly Science and Religion News and Resources

This week's list of interesting news, articles and websites on Science and Religion.

Born believers: how your brain creates God at New Scientist

The credit crunch could be a boon for irrational belief, New Scientist editorial

Bart Simpson recruited into Scientology. mmm...

2 Feb 2009

Ten Amusing Arguments for the Existence of God

The last few posts have been rather sombre affairs; not that reporting on the Vatican is supposed to be a bundle of laughs. So, to lighten the mood a little here are a few of my favourites from the Hundreds of Proofs of God's Existence. The list now runs to nearly 600 proofs, so needs to be read in bite-size pieces. So here's a taster:

(1) If there is no God then we're all going to not exist after we die.
(2) I'm afraid of that.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) See this bonfire?
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Telling people that God exists makes me filthy rich.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) God exists.
(2) I don't give a crap whether you believe it or not; I have better things to do than to try to convince you morons.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Fuck you.
(2) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Person X died an atheist.
(2) He now realizes his mistake.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) If God exists, then he will let me watch you be tortured forever.
(2) I rather like that idea.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) Christians say that Jesus is their best friend.
(2) I'm lonely, and I want a best friend.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) No sane person could have thought up Christianity.
(2) Therefore, it must be true
(3) Therefore, God exists.

(1) You use lots of big words.
(2) Therefore, I cannot possibly be expected to understand your refutation of my position.
(3) Therefore, God exists.

As I said, it's a long list. A great read that is both deadly serious and darkly funny.

Vatican Galileo Statue Scrapped

VATICAN officials have scrapped plans for a statue of Galileo Galilei, the astronomer who was convicted of heresy 400 years ago.
The statue, which was due to have been placed in the Vatican gardens, was intended as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations this year of Galileo's development of the telescope and astronomical findings.

Vatican observers had said the plans showed another step towards his rehabilitation, so the announcement yesterday at the Vatican that it had been scrapped came as a surprise.

Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican's culture chief, said: "The project has been shelved for the moment. A preparatory sketch for the statue had been made, but it has been decided not to go ahead."

Mgr Ravasi would not explain why the decision had been taken but added: "There was a sponsor who was then told to spend the money on a scientific project in Africa."


However much lipstick the pig tries to wear, it's still a pig.

Am not sure whether to be surprised or not. The Galileo Conference in May was advertised as a bridge-building exercise but perhaps my article on Galileo, Neurotheology and the Vatican is much closer to the mark.

1 Feb 2009

Galileo, Neurotheology and the Vatican - Osservatore Romano review

With the International Year of Astronomy and the Year of Darwin, the Vatican is going to have a lot to say about science in 2009. In my previous article I looked at a conference on Galileo coming in May as well as the catholic Church's insistence that the Galileo case should not be seen as a clash between science and religion. Perhaps one should not use the broad brush of religion in general as it brings into this particular argument other faiths, but to be more specific we are talking about the clash between the Catholic Church and science - between dogmatic control of ideas and the liberal tendency of natural philosophy. The science of astronomy obviously won the argument. It won this argument a long time ago. So why are we still talking about Galileo? What is the Church really trying to achieve here?

The Jesuit-run Stensen Institute of Florence will host a conference entitled "The Galileo Case. A historical, philosophical and theological re-examination". To quote from their website: "For the first time after 400 years, members of the Vatican Observatory, the Pontifical Council for Culture, The Sciences Academy and many other Institutions, that were historically involved in the Galileo affair, are among the experts invited to the congress with a view to showing how "recent scientific and historical research" might alleviate the "tension and conflict" still clouding the relationship between the church and science."

The Osservatore Romano ran a brief interview with one of the organizers on 31 January 2009. It starts off by quoting John Paul II, who saw the Galileo trial as a "tragic mutual incomprehension"; as usual, always seeking to spread the blame. The interview is, however, interesting in that it mentions biotechnology almost as much as Galileo. Here we get an inkling on why the Church is so obsessed with Galileo. It seeks to separate the decision of the Inquisition from the philosophical standpoint of the Church. It seeks to legitimize itself as an arbiter of science and to place Catholic doctrines as guides to what can and cannot be researched. The article, indeed, goes on to say that it is of fundamental importance that the Church promotes biotechnology for the benefit of humanity, and that morality must be placed above science in order to achieve this. For the Vatican, the "politics of science" is to place Catholic doctrines above scientific progress.

Two things are immediately clear. For anybody who has looked closely at the Galileo case it is obvious that above the philosophical positions it was the political climate that ultimately condemned Galileo. The Inquisition needed to make a point and the Counter-Reformation was gaining impetus. Even the Jesuits who initially supported Galileo knew that survival of the Church was more important than one man. The same Jesuits taught Galileo's theories in the Far East, away from the troublesome Reformation in Europe. The Catholic politics of science continues to this day with the same aims. This is why they want the world to accept that their position is at least legitimate.

The interviewee, who remains anonymous to the end so probably a Jesuit at the Stensen, then goes on to discuss reason and faith. Scientific progress in the "bio-techno-sciences" is leading to a greater understanding of the human experience and a refinement in the categories of faith and reason. Here we are now looking at the neurosciences rather than biotech or genetics. Indeed, research into consciousness and mind is progressing to the point where it seems fairly obvious even to the faithful that a state of belief could well just be a function of the brain. The scientific attack on faith itself, rather than just antiquated or supernatural doctrines, would be the most serious challenge the Church will have ever faced. Philosophical and doctrinal positions have to be articulated before the research data comes out. Better still, by placing Church doctrines above science they may even be able to avoid research going down that road. "I believe because I think", says our respondent! He thus turns around "I think therefore I am" into "I think therefore I believe". A possible sign of belief as a mental disorder but that's for another article.

These are interesting articles and this particular interview ends with a shot across the boughs of scientists, but I suspect neuroscientists in particular. The neuroscience of religious experiences is often called neurotheology. I know, some people object to the name but it may well stick. Neurotheology is a branch of the cognitive neurosciences and seeks to use new techniques such as fMRI to investigate which parts of the brain are active during experiences such as meditation, praying and other religious activities. The serious problem here for theologians is the coming debate that once belief becomes just a state of mind then any claim that faith is a special kind of knowledge gets blown away. The primacy of faith and the theological logic that supports it have to be defended. If the Galileo case is admitted as an "error of faith" then we should be mindful that an attack on faith not be an "error of science". That was the conclusion from our mystery interlocutor.

Interesting times ahead for science and religion debates.

Galileo Conference in Florence - Osservatore article and comments

The Vatican has decided to join the events of the International Year of Astronomy 2009. It is also nearly the 400th anniversary of the publication of Galileo's Starry Messenger (Sidereus nuncius). The Osservatore Romano has recently published two articles concerning these events. On the 30th January is the piece "Galileo's revolution 400 years later" and on 31st "The "Galileo Case" as an opportunity for dialogue". The style of the Osservatore, and of course the Vatican, is always tortuous when it comes to diplomacy - a kind of literary equivalent of squirming.

The first article is largely an announcement of an International Conference on Galileo Galilei to be held in Florence on 26-30 May. As conferences go this seems particularly long. The trial of Galileo is one story that just will not go away. It has become the archetypal clash between science and religion, reason and faith. I feel, sometimes, that a wider historical context should be promoted to the public, but I will write about this later, for now it is enough to just watch the Vatican propaganda in action. We must also not forget that the Vatican is in the peculiar position of having to defend itself, and yet if there is anywhere in the world with documents that could shed light on those events it is precisely in the Vatican archives. The propagandist protocol in cases of guilt is not to plead innocence but to completely muddy the water so that many people, especially the faithful, are left in doubt as to the Church's guilt. The aim of this article is in that category.

One strategy is to try to make Galileo seem untrustworthy. This is one of the most-often used bits of black propaganda - to put truths into the mouths of liars so that nobody believes them except those who comprehend the message all too clearly. That Galileo is a "complex" personality is laughable; I mean, aren't we all? Wouldn't we all react in different ways depending on how events unfolded for us? To court patrons is no crime - scientists do the same now except they are corporations or foundations rather than princes or kings. To ignore rivals is not in the spirit of science but that too happens today just as much as in the 17th century. To try and pin the first strike on Galileo's personality is ludicrous and should be recognized for what it is - a diversionary tactic worthy of a cheap trickster. There is one fact that is little mentioned so I will highlight it here.

The Jesuit astronomers taught Galileo's and Kepler's theories to the Japanese and Chinese while Galileo was still under house arrest. Now, re-read that sentence and think through the consequences of it.

One small episode in the whole Galileo drama has recently come to the fore, and this Year of Astronomy is as good a time as any to discuss the history of technology and philosophy of science. One of Galileo's criticisms against his accusers is that they refused to even look through his telescope to see for themselves the satellites of Jupiter and the mountains on the Moon. These fideists refused to do so on the philosophical ground that such a mechanical device distorted reality and therefore anything seen through it was just as likely to be an artefact of the telescope rather than an image of reality. True, the telescopes at the time were no better than cheap ones we can buy easily today, but the navigators who used them on a daily basis were not the kind of people to trust a device that produced mirages. The faithful refused to look through the telescope because by doing so they would see the truth for themselves. By refusing they could attack the man and the theories, not the data. In truth, the Jesuits did perform their own experiments but the role of the Jesuits in all of this and their battle with the Dominicans is worthy of a longer article.

There is a second aspect that is also always left out. Between the iconic figures of Copernicus and Galileo stands an often ignored figure who was a greater mathematician than both of them: Johann Kepler. It was Kepler who first discovered that planets move around the sun in ellipses. It was Kepler who discovered what are still known as Kepler's Laws of Planetary Motion. Kepler even anticipated the law of gravity but thought it was some kind of magnetic field. It was Kepler's Laws that Newton later recast as consequences of a gravitational force. I really don't know why Copernicus especially is so well-known as his idea was correct but his formulation was hopelessly wrong. However, some people become totems for others that follow and this seems to be the case for Copernicus.

The Vatican's message in all of this is that the Church's stance at the time was somehow philosophically justified and not a persecution. Re-read my sentence on the Jesuits in Japan. Their stance was justified by the obstinate aristotelian Dominican order that controlled the Inquisition. In Aristotle we find that his idea of natural philosophy was a purely observational science, without experimentation for to experiment was to somehow distort nature. The battle between this narrow, and erroneous, aristotelian view and natural philosophers in no way starts with Galileo but had been going on for centuries. The Condemnation of 1277 in Paris is another little-known but important stage in the liberation of science from fideist religious doctrines.

Unfortunately, Galileo's Starry Messenger was first published in 1610, thereby outside the Year of Astronomy, but the organisers have still taken advantage that it was in 1609 that Galileo became the first modern astronomer, extending the human senses with a telescope. One disturbing piece of recent news is the attempt by Italian and British scientists to exhume Galileo's body in order to test his DNA for eyesight problems! Although this was hidden in the Reuters weird news section this immediately smelled like the hand of the Church at work. If they could show that Galileo had defective vision then they would have another grain of doubt to implant into the intellectually challenged and to show the world that the Vatican's initial scepticism was warranted. "If we knew exactly what was wrong with his eyes we could use computer models to recreate what he saw in his telescope," said Paolo Galluzzi, director of the Museum of History and Science in Florence, the city where Galileo is buried. This may sound like a mantra, but read again about what the Jesuits taught the Chinese.

This edition of the Osservatore also has an article with a brief history of the telescope. It includes quotes about how Galileo constructed his first telescope from a Dutch design. Here we do see Kepler credited for designing a better telescope than Galileo, with a higher magnification. Nothing extraordinary or controversial here but the article does end with "These are the eyes to better see the extraordinary beauty of the universe." How nice.

I will look next at the article in the 30 January edition.