I like to see the new RATIONALIST magazine as a ship starting out to new horizons. As the captain, I am joined by an international crew of brilliant and committed rationalist thinkers and writers spanning over several continents. We are striving for a world without borders where reason, science and human rights come out on top and chase away the shadows that superstition, fundamentalism and intolerance that are still casting over human lives. Welcome to everyone sailing under the same wind.
The crucifix held by Pope Benedict XVI is seen at the end of the First Vespers on the occasion of the first week of Advent in Saint Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. Image by: STEFANO RELLANDINI
Sanal Edamaruku, an Indian rationalist, denied the Vile Parle’s Velankanni church’s dripping cross was a miracle.
Asked by TV-9 to investigate the cross, he flew down to the cross, took pictures around it and demonstrated that the whole thing was the result of capillary action via underground water near the cross.
Capillary action works when the adhesive nature of a liquid overcomes gravity – making it appear to run upwards.
In other words the cross wasn’t a miracle; it was rising damp. If that’s a miracle, then bad RDP houses are holy sites.
The excuse being used is that he said the church was using the cross to make money, and that is one step too far. The good people at theMinistry of Truth point out exactly where someone could have gotten such an impression - the church's website.
The Catholic Church's representative in India has praised the prosecution in this case, which tells you exactly how much the church values truth and honesty.
This case is really just an extreme example of a trend that afflicts a lot of people - and it is one of the reasons I respect scientists a lot more than theologians.
Theology is pretty much an exercise in taking scripture and trying to find a way in which to make it not wrong by our modern understanding of nature, history and morality. It is about trying to make outdated religion, fit reality.
Just to clarify my definition of religion for the purposes of this rant - I hold that the opposite to atheism is theism, not religion. Religion to me is a belief system which asserts "unchanging" dogmas based upon authority, as opposed to evidence. As such my definition of religion includes atheist religions like "state philosophies".
One of the things that struck me reading through all the quotes about the now potentially found Higgs boson, was how many physicists were excited at the potential of it being something else.
A few weeks ago I noticed an argument in which a creationist was using a variation of the fine tuning argument, claiming that if the Earth was just a little bit closer to the sun it would bake, if it was just a little bit further out it would freeze.
Now this is obviously wrong, as the Earth’s orbit is elliptical, and a strong earthquake can shift the planet one way or the other, but that is not the interesting thing.
The interesting thing was, someone posted that as a response and got told; “Never correct me again.”
Where scientists seek real knowledge that contradicts their views, where scientists make a real effort to understand via evidence, all too many people seek to avoid being corrected.
Not all scientists are immune to the urge to shut down data that goes against their favoured hypothesis, but all scientists believe one shouldn't do that. The moral failing there would be with the scientist, not with the person presenting the conflicting data.
And I like to think no scientist worth his or her salt would have someone arrested after they disproved one of their theories.
Now just think about the sort of thinking that goes behind a group calling itself Boko Haram, the killing or jailing of "heretics" in Islamic countries, attempts to shut down the teaching of evolution in the US and South Korea, or the repression of academia in a lot of Communist nations. To fight knowledge, is to fight the possibility of correction.
Religion of this sort does not simply conflict with science, it conflicts with knowledge.
And the only limits to how far that kind of religious person will go in order to avoid correction, is precisely how far the rest of society lets them.