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Post Why Do People Prefer Myth, Mysticism, and Superstition?
Created by John Eipper on 12/22/17 5:09 AM

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Why Do People Prefer Myth, Mysticism, and Superstition? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela, 12/22/17 5:09 am)

It took me a great deal of time to decide to comment on Tor Guimaraes's recent reflections about mysticism, myth and superstition (18 December). I have not read Tor's book, but I suppose it would be necessary to do so in order to understand his real concerns and conclusions about such difficult questions: Why are supposedly intelligent humans the way they are regarding mysticism, myth, rituals, superstitions, etc? I suppose Tor's inquiry is about why humans still need to believe in metaphysical entities, such as gods, religions, myths, superstitious beliefs, and why they conduct rituals and so on.

Despite the relevance of Tor's inquiry, I feel that a deeper question is why the human capacity for reasoning, accumulated knowledge, scientific advances, discoveries and evidence of human civilization have not been enough to turn us all into materialists or atheists. Belief in the polytheistic version of "gods," or the monotheistic "God," are illusory abstractions of intangible complexity. Much has been said in this Forum, but I would add my personal reflections.

The question whether humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element or not, as well as the purpose of life, are some of the main philosophical and theological questions. Together with this we have the apparent conflict between physics and metaphysics, or the modern antagonism between atheists and "believers" in gods or myths, or even the religious hypothesis that there is an afterlife world rewarding the virtuous and punishing the evil; these are theosophical and religious issues that probably can ever be fully solved by reasoning.

The fact seems to be that human need to "believe" in something beyond the material world; even the most highly educated or scientifically informed person might have a metaphysical outlook, which is so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be overridden. The implication is that we all believe in a not dissimilar range of tangible and intangible realities despite all the scientific evidence we might have. Is science not a modern religion in some way for most of us? We believe in many scientific facts despite never directly experiencing them or really understanding them. In many scientific disciplines we are told scientific laws are true and real and we believe them. Is this not an act of faith?

I consider myself neither a "believer" nor an atheist, but more of a timid agnostic, incapable of taking a position between the two. My limited consciousness of modern scientific knowledge suggests to me that is difficult to believe in an almighty entity. However, my conscience also suggests to me that there are certain indisputable moral values in humans, a sense of what is right and wrong, or good and bad, since humanity's origins. It is difficult to explain these realities as purely social ethical evolutional conventions.

Is must be difficult to rationally demonstrate the existence of God, as much as to demonstrate "its" non-existence. I would not dare to be arrogant enough to have certainties in any case.

Now to turn to JE´s afterlife question, "And after we depart this life, what remains?" This is a question that can also never be answered while we are alive, so then shouldn't it be better not to be afraid or much concerned about it? This unknown afterlife has been very well exploited by many religions to enforce their doctrines, but also to give us a sense of reward or punishment. That is a practical and useful purpose in many ways. We should not be afraid of death. We should rather be open to "surprises" when we die and sorry to leave the extraordinary experience of living.

JE comments: Weighty reflections from my friend on the other side of the Caribbean. I hope yesterday's WAIS "holiday" didn't cause too much distress among the WAISitudes. Once again, I found myself crying in the Internet wilderness. Our present location, Varadero beach on the north coast, has wi-fi in the hotel--at least in theory. Yesterday afternoon it worked well enough to burn up a one-hour prepaid card, without actually connecting to anything. This morning things are a tad zippier.

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  • Myth, Superstition, and Human Evolution (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/23/17 4:15 AM)
    I have been thinking further about my prior statement and question, "The right choice seems to be abundantly clear in favor of more knowledge, less myth, mysticism, and superstition. So why do so many people prefer ignorance and seem to enjoy myth, mysticism, and superstition?"

    The more I reflect on this, the more convinced I become that therein lies the demise of mankind.

    While scientists have been able to produce new knowledge and societies have educated people to cure diseases, make our lives more productive and comfortable, travel farther and faster, and more easily communicate with our loved ones, this apparently has not been enough.

    When the masses are following wisdoms such as "one does not need to have any physical evidence in order to believe," we are all doomed for two simple reasons: First, if followed literally, it will stop the discovery of valid knowledge which historically has been the only way to improve human conditions. Second, individuals or groups interested in ripping people off and fooling them to follow their political agendas, will have a field day. That explains our slowly increasing national decay quite well: while our educational system deteriorates, leaders like Trump proliferate.

    JE comments: José Ignacio Soler was applying the "belief without physical evidence" to science as well, not just religion. How many of us regular folks have seen relativity or black holes? DNA?  The stuff inside our iPhones?

    Evolutionary scientists like Jared Diamond have argued that myth and superstition are assets for human survival, not liabilities. Otherwise, agnostic or atheistic societies would have out-survived their religious competitors, especially given the high economic cost of maintaining religious institutions.

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  • God the Universe, Evolution, Science (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/27/17 6:09 AM)
    I thank José Ignacio Soler for his interesting comments of December 22nd.

    Regarding José Ignacio's "why the human capacity for reasoning, accumulated knowledge, scientific advances... has not been enough to turn us all into materialists or atheists," I agree that there will always be the need for spiritualism, given the amazing nature of the Universe (God) and the incredible mysteries still to be discovered. This will never change, as humans learn increasingly more about God the Universe. One of my book's main point is that if you change the definition of God to be the Universe, then atheists must logically accept Its existence. The conflict between atheists and believers disappears.

    Now to turn to José Ignacio's other question, "Is science not a modern religion in some way for most of us?" The main huge difference is that, in science, if I believe a particular hypothesis, the burden of proof is on me and my fellow scientists will be trying their hardest to test my hypotheses. Furthermore, while we cannot see subatomic components, atoms, molecules, or black holes, in the traditional sense, the theories obviously work in practice otherwise we would have no chance to cure diseases, launch satellites and travel to outer space, have an increasingly sophisticated electronics industry, etc.

    Based on accumulated knowledge, science keeps improving on itself. That is a far cry from having faith based on obviously man-made beliefs which have led mankind nowhere at best, and to killing each other at their worst.

    Finally, John Eipper commented that "Jared Diamond argued that myth and superstition are assets for human survival, not liabilities. Otherwise, agnostic or atheistic societies would have out-survived their religious competitors, especially given the high economic cost of maintaining religious institutions."

    I think this is complete nonsense. The issue is not between atheistic societies versus religious ones, since only relatively few atheists have existed in all societies. The important lesson is that history to date is full of examples of technologically more advanced nations destroying their less advanced competitors. Furthermore, in the future, only scientific knowledge broadly defined to include all areas of knowledge will substantially increase the chances of mankind's survival and prosperity, unless the idiots among us use technology to the contrary. But that would just represent another wrong human choice among many.

    JE comments:  If I may advocate Devil-style, this statement from Tor Guimaraes is a tautology:  "If you change the definition of God to be the Universe, then atheists must logically accept Its existence."  The same truth would apply to God the King/Chief/Emperor, God the Tree in my Yard, God my Microwave Oven, etc.

    Sorry to be flippant.  So here's another question for reflection:  have there been instances of a technologically less developed society "destroying" a more-advanced competitor?  Christianity's triumph over Islam in Spain is one example.  Or the Barbarians overrunning Rome.

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    • Science without Religion, Religion without Science, and Einstein (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/28/17 3:14 PM)
      I have carefully read the interesting postings by A.J. Cave, Nigel Jones, and John E's comments on my last post (December 27th).

      Nigel attributed the statement "Science without religion is blind" to Albert Einstein. I totally disagree with it face value and have no idea whatsoever he is talking about. I agree with Nigel's main points which combined brought us back to the original question: Why do humans prefer myth and superstition over a more realistic God which requires science for us to understand and benefit from?

      I assume that the posting by A.J. Cave is saying that humans are wired to be story-tellers and listeners, thus religion and science are and will be compatible alternatives for human existence. I think the evidence is clear that they are not compatible, that religion retards scientific development and education at the national level, and that science is mankind's only hope for survival and prosperity. Think about what Newton could have accomplished if he had not wasted so much time with religious nonsense.

      John Eipper believes my statement "If you change the definition of God to be the Universe, then Atheists must logically accept Its existence" is a tautology, because the same truth would apply to God the King/Chief/Emperor, God the Tree in my Yard, God my Microwave Oven, etc.

      The term tautology has several meanings.  At its worst a tautology, logically speaking, is a statement framed in a way that it cannot be denied without inconsistency. Call it what you want, but the only way I can truly believe that there is a real God is by defining It as the Universe. Further, defining God that way makes it logically impossible for anyone to deny Gods existence.

      John also asked, "have there been instances of a technologically less developed society destroying a more-advanced competitor? Christianity's triumph over Islam in Spain is one example. Or the Barbarians overrunning Rome."

      Apparently Moorish technology was not that significantly more powerful than Spain/Portugal's. While the Christians pushed the Moors out they did not conquer Islam. Also, the Crusades did not end well for the West. In the case of Rome, after centuries of total dominance, it first destroyed itself from within while the competitors learned to fight them more effectively, before they invaded and conquered. Also there are other cases such as Nazi technological supremacy in some areas but not enough to affect the outcome of WWII.

      Nevertheless, the evidence is overwhelming for the national importance of science and technology in the long term.

      JE comments:  Tor and I are in agreement about tautologies:  If you define God as X, and X plainly exists, then you cannot deny that God exists.

      The precise Einstein quote is "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."  This suggests he put religion on an equal footing with science, but consider also this quote from a 1954 letter:

      "The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."



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      • Remember You Are Only a Man, from Classical Times to the White House (John Heelan, UK 12/29/17 4:48 AM)
        Tor Guimaraes's well-argued post (29 December) risks leading us into the quicksands of semantics and sophism--e.g. JE rightly summarised Tor's arguments as "Tor and I are in agreement about tautologies: If you define God as X, and X plainly exists, then you cannot deny that God exists."

        The quicksand beckons! Given the US predilection for deifying the President of the day (as well as past Presidents), the White House might argue that Trump exists for better or worse, as the next few years will demonstrate. Perhaps the Secret Service should copy the Roman tradition of seating a slave behind the victorious general being feted who whispers in his ear, "Memento homo" (remember you are only a man), to avoid that the excess of celebration could lead the celebrated commander to lose his sense of proportions.

        Might this be appropriate in today's America?

        JE comments:  "Respice post te, hominem te memento."  I agree that Trump needs a full-time humility team, but is the legend about the humbling Roman slave really true?  Some sources claim it was a morality lesson made up by later Christians.

        Classicists of WAISworld, we lend you our ears.

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      • An Awesome Offer from Tor Guimaraes (Tor Guimaraes, USA 12/31/17 3:10 PM)

        Regarding our recent conversation on Religion and Science, I wish WAISers would read my book before asking me to explain things which are in the book. Thus, if you wish, when someone makes a donation to WAIS, upon request I am willing to send them a copy of the book free of charge.

        JE comments:  Muito obrigado, Tor!  This is a splendid offer for the New Year.  WAISers on the 2017 Honor Roll:  If you'd like a copy of Tor Guimaraes's God for Atheists and Scientists, drop me a line and we'll make it happen.

        By the way, we're still looking for two new donors before the clock strikes midnight:  PayPal at donate@waisworld.org.  The champagne and twelve grapes can wait!

        Tor, a joyous New Year and a big thanks.

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    • Science is Not a Religion (Istvan Simon, USA 12/29/17 7:31 AM)
      I have tried to keep out of this discussion, even though I have much to say about this matter. But I cannot keep quiet any longer for some of my WAISer colleagues are writing, I am sorry to have to say this but it is true, complete absurdities.

      First to José Ignacio Soler who said: "Is science not a modern religion in some way for most of us?"

      If José Ignacio thinks so, I am sorry to say, but I have to, as a scientist, that unfortunately he has no idea whatsoever about what science is.  There is a huge difference between science and religion, and no, science is not a modern religion.

      Science does not require faith, nor belief of any kind, other than integrity, honesty, and the ability to reason logically. Science proceeds by observation, measurement, and by formulating logical mathematical models on how the world might work. If the predictions of these mathematical models, that is their logical consequences, are confirmed by observation, the theory survives. If they are not, the theory is discarded or modified.

      Some very dumb people, for example, say about Darwin's Theory of Evolution: "It is just a theory," as if religion and Creationism could be an alternative theory. But neither religion nor Creationism can be an alternative theory to Darwin, because there is overwhelming evidence that what the Bible says about creation is wrong, and what Darwin says is right. It is not faith in Darwin; it is measurement and observation, integrity and honesty. History has shown that unfortunately in religion both integrity and honesty are at least at certain times in very short supply. Galileo was persecuted by the Catholic Church, and Giordano Bruno murdered, but science proved that Galileo was right and his persecutors were complete fools. The Catholic Church has admitted officially as much.

      Nigel Jones would say that Galileo was a profoundly religious man, very much a Roman Apostolic Catholic, and he would be right--he was. But Galileo knew the difference between science and the Bible, and did not take what the Bible says literally, because he knew that his telescope proved that what was then believed to be the truth about planetary motion was simply wrong.

      Darwin did not know about DNA, which had not yet been found by science. Yet DNA confirms Darwin's theory! Darwin did not know about antibiotics, since they have not been found for many decades after Darwin died. Yet antibiotics confirm Darwin's theory, as now we know that bacteria get resistant to antibiotics, exactly as Darwin's theory predicts. We have carbon dating, and it confirms that the Bible is wrong, because we found bones that are older than what the Bible says is the age of the Earth in Genesis.

      Science has determined what happens to stars, how they form spontaneously, there is no creator involved, how they ignite spontaneously and start the nuclear reaction of fusion that powers every single star. Science has determined how long a star will live, meaning how long nuclear fusion will last, and what happens to the star after it runs out of fuel. Science has determined that every single molecule in José Ignacio's body and mine was not on Earth when the Earth first formed. Science has determined how every element of the periodic table gets formed from subatomic particles. No, José Ignacio, science is not just another religion, because it does not require faith of any kind, nor is any theory sacred. Newton's theory of gravitation is a major advance in science and it can be used to predict exactly how to send a rocket to the Moon, exactly as we did. Yet Einstein modified it, and showed that under certain conditions Newton's theory cannot be applied. Quantum mechanics is completely incomprehensible and counter-intuitive, yet observation proves that it is the correct physics to use under certain conditions. All electronic devices that we use are based on the workings of transistors, and transistors work the way they do because of quantum mechanics. It is ridiculous and absurd to compare religion and science. Science wins hands down every time.

      We know what will happen to the sun, our star, and it is not good news for religious people. For when the sun starts dying, it will become what is called a red giant, and it will extinguish all life on Earth. If our species still is around then, we will to have to move, otherwise the game is over for us humans and everything else.

      Now to Tor Guimaraes: Tor is wrong about tautologies. I teach logic, and the meaning of tautology is defined very precisely. There is no interpretation involved, no ambiguity at all. Let me say exactly what a tautology is.

      Let's start with simpler concepts first. A proposition is a declarative statement which is either true or false. Examples: Today is Monday is a proposition which happens to be false. The shirt I am wearing is blue under white light, is a proposition, and it happens to be true. Here is an example which is not a proposition: What time is it? This is not a proposition because it is not a declarative statement, and it is neither true nor false. Here is another one: This statement is true. This is not a proposition because it cannot be determined if it is true or false.

      From simple propositions like the examples I have given we can build more complicated ones, called compound propositions by means of using logical connectives between them. For example I can say Today is Monday and the shirt I am wearing is blue under white light. This is a compound proposition, and it is false, because Today is not Monday. For a compound proposition with the logical connective and to be true, both simpler propositions that it connects would have to be true.

      A compound proposition is a tautology if no matter what the truth values of the simple propositions that are its parts it is always true. For example: If today is Monday then Tomorrow will be Tuesday. This is a true proposition, independently if Today is Monday or not. If Today is Monday, then surely tomorrow will be Tuesday, so the compound proposition is true. If Today is not Monday the proposition is still true, because an implication with the left hand side false is always true. Note that if Today is not Monday, then Tomorrow will not be Tuesday either, so in this case both the left hand side and the right hand side of the implication are false, yet the implication is true. An implication is only false, if the left hand side is true but the right hand side is false.

      I will not express an opinion in this post on the the issue of who or what God is, and whether God exists or not, though I might return to this fundamental question in a future post. Let me just say at this point, that Tor's idea of a kind of pantheism that God is the Universe which supposedly solves everything is very different from my ideas on the subject. Instead I ask Tor to address the following questions which it seems to me are fundamental to religions, human needs for moral guidance, and for people that do have religious feelings, yet it seems to me his Theory of God the Universe does not adequately answer. The questions I pose below are just a small sample of the hundreds of questions of importance about morality and right and wrong that I could ask.

      1. Is God (the Universe) all-powerful?

      2. Is God (the Universe) loving and/or merciful?

      3. Does God (the Universe) care if a child is murdered?

      4. According to God (the Universe) Is it right or wrong to kill animals for food?

      5. According to God (the Universe) is it right or wrong to kill animals for sport?

      6. According to God (the Universe) is cannibalism right or wrong?

      JE comments:  These six questions all require a precondition:  God the Universe as a sentient being.  I believe Tor Guimaraes addressed this some time ago, and concluded that It is not.  This begs the larger question:  Is there any "use" for a god if She/He/It doesn't have a moralizing function?

      José Ignacio Soler compared science to religion precisely because it is fetishized as a higher type of truth.  (Heck, let's capitalize it: Truth.)  This is precisely the claim made by religions over the millennia.  What's more, until the Enlightenment era, religion (theology) was considered the mother of all sciences.

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      • Religion, Stories, Truth (Henry Levin, USA 12/29/17 4:18 PM)
        I did not wish to get into this cauldron of bubbles, vapors, and fumes, but I want to give a simple response.

        Religion is a bunch of stories or speculations not subject to the principle of falsification. There simply is no criterion for choosing among them or rejecting all of them. The only criterion that I perceive in religious debates is the existence of an accuracy of prophesies.  But religious prophesies are exercises in alchemy, given the human differences in the judgments on the lack of precision of language, meaning, and definition of time span. There is not even a mutually acceptable epistemology that can be used to test the validity and predictive accuracy of each of the prophesies, though such claims of accurate prediction are abundant.

        So, in my view there are many stories, some primitive and some more sophisticated, that point to a god or universal being and purpose, but no way to choose among them or to reject all. Some of the stories encourage kindness to others, but others offer harsh criticism and even death to those who do not believe in the "favorite" story. Note that I do not use the term "faith" since that is hardly the term to refer to in evaluating the truth of a story. Rather, truth is illusory and often deeply held for one reason alone, upbringing and indoctrination. This does not mean that all religion is bad, although I believe that any religion that recommends killing of infidels is bad.

        Each is a story that lacks any vestige of validity beyond the phenomenon of belief. At best, these stories are speculative and inspiring. At worst, and through much of human history, they are murderous and destructive.

        I realize that these remarks make me agnostic, and bordering on atheism. But, isn't it best to be tolerant of different versions of the story and simply tolerate all of them until those who claim that the only true religion is theirs can use some reasonable and persuasive epistemological basis for the claim. We need stories and myths, as if they were true, to give meaning to life and to provide glue from generation to generation, a psychological need. Some stories are kind and inspire us to better treatment of our neighbors. Others inspire us to punish or even kill our neighbors.

        We must demolish once and for all that belief in a story makes it true.

        JE comments:  I like this quote very much:   "We need stories and myths, as if they were true, to give meaning to
        life and to provide glue from generation to generation, a psychological

        Can we all agree on this?

        A very happy 2018 to Hank Levin and Pilar Soler!  I hope our paths cross in the new year, Hank.

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        • Religion and Science: Some Quotes (Paul Levine, Denmark 12/30/17 4:18 AM)

          Here are perhaps relevant observations for our discussion on religion.

          Happy New Year!

          A world that be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. --Albert Camus

          God did not create humans. Humans created God.
          --Nikos Kazantzakis

          God is an underachiever. --Woody Allen

          JE comments:  All the best to you in 2018, Paul!

          I haven't heard the word "underachiever" in years, but we did see this Woody quote once before, back in 2013:


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        • Science, Religion, and the Republic of Letters (A. J. Cave, USA 12/31/17 7:36 AM)
          The backstory to whatever I write on religion and science is in my book An Idol-worshiper's Guide to God-stan. The challenge in discussing one, the other or both is losing context.

          One of the most influential periods in the Western history is a period wedged between the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, loosely referred to as "The Republic of Letters." It is typically bundled with the end of the Renaissance and the beginning the Enlightenment. I think it is impossible to discuss religion and science without knowing a little or a lot about the citizens of the Republic of Letters which provides the proper context for the discussions.

          Here is a little I pulled from the book:

          Between the 1500s and late 1600s, astronomy become the father of the Scientific Revolution, along with the mathematics and physics needed to interpret astronomical data. The credit goes to the likes of the brilliant Polish Nicolaus Copernicus [Mikołaj Kopernik, 1473-1543], the Florentine Galileo Galilei [1564-1642], the German Johannes Kepler [1571-1630] and the English Sir Isaac Newton [1642-1727].

          On the heels of the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther that had split the Christian Church, Copernicus, a Christian and a mathematician, arrived at the simple but radical solution to fix calendric problems that were throwing the old Roman calendar out of alignment with the planets: helio-centricity. It was the earth that circled the sun. His idea was contradictory to the biblical texts, so he had waited until 1543 when he was a breath away from death to publish his revolutionary book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) that was dedicated to Pope Paul III and presented as an abstraction. All the same, his book was banned and forbidden from 1616 to 1835.

          Kepler tweaked the circular orbits of Copernicus with elliptical orbits and had come up with the laws of planetary motion. To popularize science and explain the rotation of the earth, Kepler wrote the first science-fiction story called the Somnium, meaning "the Dream." His travelers journeyed to the moon and stood on her face, watching the earth slowly move.

          Galileo, armed with Copernicus, a sharp wit and a newly invented telescope, watched the skies and the movement of the planets and wrote about them in The Starry Messenger in 1610. He combined abstract mathematics with actual observations of planet Venus and seconded the Copernican sun-centered model of the universe, which put him on a collision course with the Catholic Church.

          In a letter to Christina di Medici, the dowager Duchess of Tuscany in 1615, Galileo defended himself:

          "It is necessary for the Bible, in order to be understood by the ignorant, to speak many things which appear to differ from the absolute truth... but nature, on the other hand, is inevitable and immutable; she never transgresses the laws imposed upon her, or cares a whit whether her abstruse reasons and methods of operation are understandable to men."

          He was swiftly summoned to Rome to do some explaining. The trial of the elderly Galileo by the Holy Inquisition had shocked Europe. In a romanticized story, he had willfully defied the Church and stomped his foot insisting:  "Eppur si muove." But it does move! The globe certainly did but Galileo had recanted in order to continue his astral work under house arrest. His last book, Dialogo dei due massimi sistemi del mondo (Dialogue on the Two Main World Systems) was smuggled out of Catholic Italy and was published in Protestant Holland in 1638. His soul was consigned to hell and his Dialogue was banned from bookstores.

          We don't know what happened to the soul of Galileo, but his scientific work was saved from loss thanks to a Frenchman whose name is all but forgotten: Nicholas Claude Fabri de Peiresc [1580-1637]. He was among the formidable Men of the Republic of Letters who were building a bridge to the future through massive corresponding and networking.

          As it turned out, the earth actually does revolve around the sun, so in 1979 Pope John Paul II finally proposed to reverse the 346-year old condemnation of Galileo by the Holy Inquisition.

          The Englishman Sir Francis Bacon [1561-1626], called the father of the scientific method, proposed that knowledge should proceed by orderly and systematic experimentation, and by deductions based on data. But science had to remain compatible and complementary to the Bible. It was a high-wire balancing act between faith & reason, convention & conviction, and tradition & innovation.

          Newton was supposedly obsessive, secretive, vindictive, a virgin and one of the most brilliant minds of all times. He was amazingly modest about his own achievements. According to his memoir:

          "I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

          JE comments:  Newton's seashell analogy is priceless, especially (for me) because just one week ago Aldona and I spent hours on Varadero Beach looking for the prettiest shells.  Scientific research at its most visceral level.  Unsurprisingly, in this two-person contest I came in second.

          A great essay, A. J.  I'm intrigued by the international character of the Copernican scientific revolution, with contributions from Poland, Italy, German, France, and England.

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        • Religion and Sexual Taboos: Reflections from a Visit to Athens (Istvan Simon, USA 01/02/18 4:52 AM)
          I just would like to respond to Hank Levin (29 December 2017) that I am in 100% agreement with all that he said in his post.

          I try to respect everyone's beliefs in religious matters, because I think that it is perfectly OK with me that we may have completely different views on these matters. To me it is obvious that Hank is completely right that the faith of people tends to be completely determined by their indocrination and brain-washing as children in the beliefs of their parents. I am very grateful to my parents, that they did not ever try to brainwash me, and gave complete freedom for me to find my own thoughts on these matters.

          In a future WAIS post I might address of what those thoughts are, as I thought a great deal about the existence or not of God and I think that my ideas are somewhat original in this subject.

          I just spent 3 days in Athens and I was struck by the art on tombs dating back to many thousands of years. The Ancient Greeks, whom I admire perhaps more than any people on Earth, were extraordinarily talented in almost every human activity. They were polytheists, and Greek mythology offers a guidance into their thoughts on the supernatural. The Museum of Archaeology in Athens is an extraordinary museum, a real eye-opener on the amazing accomplishments of the extraordinarily gifted Ancient Greeks.

          As far as I know, no other people ever accomplished as much in as little time as the Ancient Greeks. Yet their beliefs in the supernatural may strike us today as "primitive," because they believed in multiple gods. Perhaps this is more of a warning and a reflection on our judgmental arrogance in believing that ours is the best way, the more so considering what the Greeks accomplished. We must give them further recognition and honors when we reflect on the fact that there were so few of them, and yet their contributions to mankind were nothing less than monumental.

          Back to the art on tombs. Maybe the religious feelings of humans come in part from our feelings of missing our loved ones when they die. Often the art on the tombs of the Greeks were statues of the deceased. Was this not a desire to preserve their visage for posterity, giving a kind of immortality to all? Is this the origin of the belief in many religions of life after death in a "better world"? And if the deceased are in a "better world," why do we mourn them rather than celebrate their deaths? This strikes me as completely contradictory.

          Personally, I do not believe in afterlife, so at least my mourning makes at least to me logical sense, and seems rational.

          Some further random thoughts. I bought a little book on Eros at the museum of the Acropolis. I already knew most of what's in it, but reading some passages in this book gave me further reflections and thoughts. It is clear that the Ancient Greeks were much more liberal about sex than we are. Clearly, there was no shame attached to sex of any kind, so much so that they decorated their vases with graphic depictions of all kinds of sex, including sex that our culture abhors today. The Greeks, at least some of them, practiced pederasty, homosexuality, sex with prostitutes was normal and common, and in fact they had a hierarchy of prostitutes, harlots, courtesans, etc., from the lowest to increasingly higher forms of prostitution, some of which were very highly rewarded by the Greeks in society with material riches showered on these women.

          So all this raised some questions in my mind, which seem relevant to our discussions on God. For if our culture is right, and pederasty is bad and immoral, and in fact in the case of minors it is against the law, so let us suppose for the sake of argument, that God exists and condemns these acts as immoral. If so, why were the Greeks so accomplished? The Bible story of Sodom and Gomorrah is supposed to teach us about what sex is not tolerated by God. Yet God not only tolerated this with the Greeks, but rewarded them with all these exceptional accomplishments in many many fields.

          JE comments:  I can't add much to a discussion on sexual taboos, although all societies have them.  Sex between siblings is another example:  the practice was encouraged in places like Hawaii and Ancient Peru, and legend has it that our insatiable ancestor Charlemagne had sex with his sister and possibly his daughters.  I'll add an unintellectual comment about Chuck the Great:  eww.

          Happy New Year, Istvan, and please:  tell us more about your travels!

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      • Can Non-Christians Celebrate Christmas? From Ric Mauricio (John Eipper, USA 12/30/17 7:13 AM)

        Ric Mauricio writes:

        If there is but one god, why is it that god did not make everything clearer so that man would not disagree about their gods?

        Scientifically, everything is made up of atoms. Atoms, with its protons, electrons, neutrons, etc. are the life force of the universe. It is what keeps all life beings alive, whether it be air, water, etc. When that life force transforms (from a living being to a non-living being), the atoms also transform into another state. Is this life force god? One can certainly define it as so. In which case, god is everywhere, yes even your microwave is a god. But should you worship this god? Of course not. I like to think that certain manifestations of this life force have a hierarchy.

        So if that hierarchy includes yourself, then you should certainly take good care of your body. Ah yes, the Personal Trainer in me would say that. If that hierarchy includes your family, then it behooves you to support and protect your wife and children to the best of your ability. And if that hierarchy includes others, then respect others and do not be critical when dealing with them.

        Which brings me to another question that was brought up this last week. Can non-Christians celebrate Christmas? If a person does not believe that Jesus was a deity, then would it be hypocrisy to celebrate his birthday anyway? This question brings up the issue that the religion surrounding this man called Jesus has obfuscated the message. My atheist friend said, "Jesus did not exist." This of course is contrary to the writings of non-Christian Roman historians. But my atheist friend is adhering to his religion of atheism.

        But I digress. The message of Jesus was one of treating others with love and respect. But, oh my, that wouldn't do if you were a Crusader going after treasures in Judea. If you look closely at the teachings of Jesus, he was actually attempting to enlighten us. Oh, much like Siddhartha with his Buddhist teachings. By the way, Buddhists do not have a god, but it is funny that they will have these statues that have incense burning around them. I asked my Buddhist friend, "Isn't the belief that the Buddha is within you?" And not some fat-bellied being? Ah, he answered, "yes, you understand." One can also substitute the term "Holy Spirit" with "Buddha" or enlightenment.

        So if the Muslims believe that Jesus is a great prophet and Buddhists believe he is an enlightened individual, then why not celebrate Christmas? The message should be the same: Love your neighbors.

        Religion and science is but man's quest to understand the universe. What is not understandable is relegated to religion and what is supported by evidence is science. The problem is when those who believe in a certain belief are challenged by new scientific evidence contradicting that belief.

        Science has yet to explain many phenomena, such as supernatural occurrences. We know they exist, but how and why? Supernatural is only the natural unexplained. In this case, religion is the fallback default.

        JE comments:  December 25th is behind us, but I am still celebrating Ric Mauricio's Christmas gift to WAIS:  a donation to the Survival Fund!  Thank you, Ric--you are the latest to join the 2017 Honor Roll.

        Another WAIS-size thanks to today's "lead-off batter," Paul Levine in Denmark, who sent a generous contribution to our PayPal account.  Sorry for the delay in acknowledgement, Paul, but PayPal is not accessible in Cuba.

        Can we aim for two new donors before the end of 2017?  We have all weekend, and PayPal is the answer:  donate@waisworld.org.  I'll post the updated Honor Roll before the end of today.

        Our mailing address:  WAIS, c/o John Eipper, Goldsmith Hall, Adrian College, Adrian Michigan 49221 USA.

        Two people, beloved WAISers.  That means you...and one other person.

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      • Science and the Transcendence of Knowledge (John Heelan, UK 12/30/17 8:46 AM)
        Istvan Simon (29 December) makes some very good points about the rationality of science.

        However, maybe Istvan's analysis falls down when it comes to the transcendence of knowledge--to use Kantian terms--claimed by religions? Scientific knowledge has a shelf life limited by the next scientific breakthrough, and this can provide only potential signposts to the overarching realm of transcendental knowledge.

        At the point of an individual's death, it is perhaps meaningless what epidemiologists have discovered with their statistical calculations and preconditions. Science is not necessarily "truth" but scientists' opinions of the meaning of their researches--and these are often questioned by peer reviews.

        JE comments:  Concerning the transcendence of knowledge, I received this Tor Guimaraes-inspired comment from a Muslim reader in Singapore:  "God is the Creator of all things, space-time and matter.  He is not the universe.  The universe had a beginning.  God is a beginningless entity of Supreme power, will and knowledge."

        I'm a lightweight on theological matters, but I welcome your thoughts.  Meanwhile, more cars of Cuba?

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        • God the Universe as a Sentient Being; Tautologies Again (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/02/18 7:55 AM)
          I thank John Heelan (December 20th) for his kind words and was very pleasantly surprised when I agreed strongly with Istvan Simon's every statement (December 29th) addressing the differences between science and religion.

          But in the same posting, Istvan provided only a specific definition of the word tautology, which in the standard dictionaries have several meanings.

          From a different perspective, A. J. Cave's post exemplifies the historical clash between the powerful Catholic Church and the scientific community trying to discover the truth about God the Universe regarding our planetary system. It is interesting to note that other religions have not clashed with science to any significant extent. But most importantly, scientific knowledge is too important for any society to allow its scientific community to be held back by religious nonsense.

          I thank the Muslim reader in Singapore for his comment that God is the creator of, and not the universe itself, since the universe had a beginning and God has no beginning. My reply is that when one says God created the universe, many questions arise as to who created God and why does He not help the "good guys" more often since we are His creation?

          Also, as Ric Mauricio asked, "If there is but one god, why is it that god did not make everything clearer so that man would not disagree about their gods?" To me the biggest problem is that you have no evidence, just faith. On the one hand, if you define God as the Universe no one can deny Its existence. By the way, while we know there was a Big Bang creating the Universe, we don't know what came before and might come after.

          Also, some preliminary hypothesis is that God the Universe may comprise many parallel universes. So while some universes may be starting, others might be ending in a continuous cycle.

          In response to Istvan, several questions which have already been addressed in my book God for Atheists and Scientists: Q1. Is God (the Universe) all-powerful? Yes in the sense that the laws of the Universe are enforced strictly but accounting for the fact that there are numerous stochastic processes at work. The other questions, 2. Is God (the Universe) loving and/or merciful? 3. Does God (the Universe) care if a child is murdered? 4. According to God (the Universe) Is it right or wrong to kill animals for food? 5. According to God (the Universe) is it right or wrong to kill animals for sport? 6. According to God (the Universe) is cannibalism right or wrong?)--all these have to do with whether or not God intervenes directly in the working of the Universe. I think not.

          The rules are set from the beginning and we humans must learn to live with them. As I explained in my book, God makes no decisions because It knows Itself in great detail. Also God has no ethics because It is always right. An integral part of the species evolutionary process is increasing levels of environmental awareness, information processing, and decision making/choice control capability. Within the laws of the Universe, we make the choices available to us, and learn to accept the results.

          Regarding John Eipper's question: Is God the Universe a sentient being? A whole section of my book addressed this question and concluded that God is very sentient in a particular way. John's larger question: Is there any "use" for a god if She/He/It doesn't have a moralizing function? This is a very sneaky question. The real question is what good is God if he does not intervene when we ask? The book addresses this question also.

          Ethics and morals are important when we have two or more people and are dependent on group customs. That is a human thing, not God's. On the other hand, if one is "in touch with the Universe," I believe miracles (events with extremely low probability or unexplainable) might happen. Also, as the book explains, I believe in prayers which are mostly to thank God for benefits already received but also asking for health, success in my efforts, and happiness. But most of the time I believe in scientific knowledge, increasing prioritization, environment scanning, and preparation for action and reaction.

          Something like praise God and pass the ammunition.

          JE comments:  Or God (the Universe) helps those who help themselves? 

          Regarding tautologies, I never thought the definition was in doubt.  They're X = X statements, which are true by definition.  Remember Silent Cal Coolidge's "When people are out of work, unemployment results"?  Or how about the classic "Predictions are hard, especially about the future," variously attributed to several philosophers?

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      • Science and Religion; Response to Istvan Simon (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 12/31/17 8:43 AM)
        I am grateful for Istvan Simon's post (29 December) about religion, and more precisely for his eloquent, persuasive, vigorous, passionate and convincing arguments to demonstrate that science is not a religion.

        I admit that now it is impossible not to agree with Istvan; his arguments are irrefutable. However, and apparently, Istvan took my question, "Is science not a modern religion in some way for most of us?" in a strictly literal sense. In fact I was only trying to use an analogy, a metaphor, to illustrate precisely what John E interpreted rightly: "José Ignacio Soler compared science to religion precisely because it is fetishized as a higher type of truth... This is precisely the claim made by religions over the millennia. What's more, until the Enlightenment era, religion (theology) was considered the mother of all sciences."

        Despite there being an obvious and huge distinction between science and religion for scientists and educated people, for "most of us," and I mean common regular people, most of the scientific laws and modern technological tools, both old and modern, are simply accepted or used in an "act of faith" because we humbly lack the knowledge and skills to apply the scientific method Istvan describes, so convincingly and accurately, to transform our naïve credibility in science to factual proof and personal and direct certainty.  This is pretty much similar to how our remote ancestors believed and accepted what priests, sorcerers, wizards and shamans said and explained about the unknown and observed "magical" mysteries of nature, myths and primitive beliefs (today´s scientific discoveries!).

        Once again, I'm thankful to Istvan for enlightening us in a such elegant fashion.

        JE comments:  And what about power?  Science benefits in our times because religious institutions no longer possess the tools to root out and punish unorthodox views.  To be sure, some societies are still shackled by the religious imposition of "truths."

        A very happy New Year to our dear friend in Caracas, José Ignacio (Nacho) Soler.

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        • Science and Religion Again (Rodolfo Neirotti, USA 01/05/18 4:39 AM)

          José Ignacio Soler wrote on December 31st: "for 'most of us,' and I mean common regular people, most of the scientific laws and modern technological tools, both old and modern, are simply accepted or used in an 'act of faith.'"

          Well, I think that there is a significant difference. Religion is based on faith, and science on evidences that are often confirmed by replications.

          JE comments: José Ignacio's essential qualifier is for most of us.  Regular folks cannot replicate the experiments that decode DNA and thousands of other phenomena great and small.  And given the Siberian conditions of recent days, global warming is even a hard fact to swallow.

          Trust in scientists to do this for us is the same kind of trust given to the priestly caste in days of yore.

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          • Why the Scientific Method is not a Religion (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/06/18 7:57 AM)
            No matter what excuses and innuendos are added to the mix, the statements by Rodolfo Neirotti (January 5th) that "religion is based on faith, and science on evidences that are often confirmed by replications" is correct.

            John Eipper commented, "Regular folks cannot replicate the experiments that decode DNA and thousands of other phenomena great and small. And given the Siberian conditions of recent days, global warming is even a hard fact to swallow. Trust in scientists to do this for us is the same kind of trust given to the priestly caste in days of yore." 

            These are simply excuses for the grossly ignorant. Consider just a few realities:

            1.  To say that scientists expect to be trusted has never been true. The faith in science can only be placed on validated scientific theories and laws, never on any scientists who can be greatly admired.

            2.  To bridge the gap between scientific results, which are cross-validated by the scientific community, and religions' demand for pure faith in their absurdities, advanced societies have at great expense instituted public education systems. The ignorance of the masses and mental laziness should receive no respect.

            3.  Scientists start with testable hypotheses, and to maintain their credibility they must not oversell their results. For example, Newton and Einstein understood that their theories were likely to be improved in the future by new findings. On the other hand, religious leaders unashamedly promote their faith and shun any doubts and questions.

            4.  Contrary to the results from religions, the results from science, no matter how initially counterintuitive and hidden from the masses, are soon translated into widely used technology observable by the masses. A perfect example here would be the weird Quantum Physics which produced all the products in electronics industry sectors. Even the Indians in the Amazon jungle can see these results from science.

            JE comments:  I'll lay off the innuendo.  But let us analyze the following:  "The ignorance of the masses and mental laziness should receive no respect."  Does such a pronouncement make the ignorance and mental laziness, if we call it that, go away?  Ignorance and laziness have political and military power.

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            • Science Has Not Proven that God Does Not Exist (Tom Hashimoto, UK 01/07/18 5:41 AM)
              Just a simple question: Isn't it a bit of conundrum to say that science rejects religion? This is a very common statement in modernism and post-modernism, but science has not proven that God does not exist.

              It has barely proven that the vast majority of observable phenomena are explainable within scientific logic--hence, God does not exist within the given space/data. So, God is a null hypothesis which has not fully rejected; thus, it is confirmed as a hypothesis.

              Scientists' distrust in religion (and religious leaders in particular) is understandable, but such criticism itself seems to divert from the very scientific method they promote. I always love to read Tor Guimaraes's comments, but even there, I can point out a couple of such incidents.

              Tor writes, "To say that scientists expect to be trusted has never been true. The faith in science can only be placed on validated scientific theories and laws, never on any scientists who can be greatly admired."

              Now, this implies that the faith in religion is placed on religious figures who can be greatly admired. Actually, that might not be the case. Many religions have well-developed scripture systems, and from time to time they argue if their teaching is in accordance with the scripture (e.g. Vatican II council). Can we perhaps call the scriptures as theories and laws of religion? (After all, for Christians, it is called Cannon Law.)

              Tor again: "To bridge the gap between scientific results, which are cross-validated by the scientific community, and religions' demand for pure faith in their absurdities, advanced societies have at great expense instituted public education systems."

              His frustration is understandable. Teaching God in public schools as if it is the only explanation of our existence is absurd. Yet Jesuits, for example, must have a profession before they can commence their priest training. A pastor I know was previously a defence lawyer. He said he can read the Bible like a constitutional law against which all religious teachings are evaluated. He implied that the profession of defence lawyers is similar to priesthood: it does not matter if you are criminal or not--you deserve the love of constitution/God.

              Tor: "Scientists start with testable hypotheses, and to maintain their credibility they must not oversell their results."

              Unfortunately, many scientists (I am not saying Tor is one of them) oversell their experience with the religious leaders and overly generalise the entire religious community. Please remember, there are many Catholic universities in Europe, and they excel also in science. I believe, shifting eyes from nuclear bomb to nuclear power plant is not scientifically motivated, but ethically motivated. Religion may accommodate such transitions.

              Tor: "Contrary to the results from religions, the results from science, no matter how initially counterintuitive and hidden from the masses, are soon translated into widely used technology observable by the masses."

              This is true. No matter how many time our Pope said we must love each other, masses do not utilise the message.

              I admit that many religious figures are blindly enforcing their beliefs to others. Once again, creating a nuclear bomb is a part of science, but dropping it is not a scientific decision. Science alone cannot exist as it cannot prove why we shall not kill the others unless we set up some less scientific parameters such as "utilities" in Economics. Religion alone cannot exist as it cannot encourage their believers to spend more time and money in their research instead of prayers. They must co-exist. We must spend our utmost energy on discoveries and improvements while maintaining compassion to the others.

              Lux et Pax. Lux is Science, and Pax is Religion, no?

              JE comments: Indeed.  Science cannot prove why we shouldn't kill each other--although evolutionary biologists and anthropologists might have something to say to the contrary.

              I'm much obliged to Tom Hashimoto for his succinct synthesis of the WAIS motto: Lux is Science, and Pax is Religion. Now if only the world had more of both.

              Szczęśliwego nowego roku, Hashimoto-San!  How are things in Warsaw?

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              • Canons..and Cannons (David Duggan, USA 01/13/18 10:48 AM)

                Tom Hashimoto (January 7th) certainly meant canon law. It's from the Old English for a measuring rod, unlike Cannon Law (from French for tube), which I suppose the Pope would like to have to enforce his bulls and encyclicals.

                However, that would be inconsistent with his role as the Vicar of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Instead he has to make do with fancy-dressed Swiss guards sporting halberds.

                JE comments:  A large-caliber editorial "oops" on this one, especially because in my Hispanist adolescence, I delivered a conference presentation titled "Faulty Can(n)ons."  The talk explored an episode in the writings of Roberto Arlt, the "Argentine Dostoevsky," in which the protagonist Silvio Astier designs a revolutionary and unworkable cannon.  I used this example to discuss Arlt's problematic status within the Argentine literary canon.  The paper was an ambitious mélange of critical theory, cultural studies, and ballistics--meaning, a complete mess.  Didn't ever publish it...

                All this is my way of saying I should know my canons and cannons.  The former actually goes back much farther than Old English, to Ancient Greek.

                Thanks, as always, to David Duggan for his eagle eye.

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                • Canons..and Cannons; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/14/18 7:17 AM)

                  Gary Moore writes:

                  An aside: can(n)ons are strange: not only a person but 'The Law"--and not only in the West
                  but in Islam (Kanun).

                  Is this a borrowing, like the Turks and Persians saying "merci"?
                  Maybe who cares, since WAIS is now going in many more interesting directions, i.e.,
                  Burma and Silesia--and look out--hoax/impostors.

                  JE comments:  Ah, the strange and mysterious turns of WAIS discussions!  I'm glad Gary Moore brought up the topic of hoaxes again.  Can we move in that direction?  I'm getting weary of the science and religion thread.

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                  • Mother of All Hoaxes: Bryce Report, 1915 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 01/15/18 6:40 AM)
                    Our esteemed moderator has asked WAISers to look at the topic of hoaxes.

                    The greatest hoaxes are those that you can find in the history books written by the victors, starting with the earliest times.

                    Probably, however, the "Mother of all Hoaxes" was the Bryce Report (1915) with the tale of the German troops cutting off the hands of Belgian children during the first period of WWI.

                    This event may also be the first well-articulated act of propaganda which made a great worldwide impact.

                    Another one is the story of Kuwaiti newborns torn out from the incubators.  This one was also widely used to justify a war.

                    At Auschwitz in 1990 the commemorative plaque changed the number of the camp's victims from 4 million to 1.5 million.

                    Unfortunately, in Europe, by law, it is almost impossible to research some of the hoaxes perpetuated by the victors.

                    In recent days we have the great scandal of President Trump, who allegedly called some nations as s...hole.

                    But in the past the US media several times called Russia a s...hole and nobody, not even the Russians, made any fuss about it, as documented by VT (Veterans Today).

                    Some time ago, "good old" Trump spoke about the tragedy of 11 September and said: "It wasn't the Iraqis, it was the Saudis."

                    JE comments:  Before Bryce, there was the destruction of the USS Maine in Havana harbor (1898):  "You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war" (William Randolph Hearst).

                    Hoaxes come in many flavors, but there are two broad categories:  those generated from powerful or government sources, official propaganda if you will, which can have serious geopolitical consequences.  Then there are the "quiet loner" hoaxes.  Some of these can gain traction and be upgraded to the first category.

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                  • Rosewood (Florida) Massacre; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/15/18 2:30 PM)

                    Gary Moore writes:

                    If, at JE's welcome suggestion, we plunge into the theme of hoaxes and impostors, there is the obligatory question:
                    Why should this theme be so fascinating?

                    Reason One could be motivation: Why did Stephen Glass of the New Republic
                    ruin his promising journalism career (and the magazine) with fantastically disguised hoax articles? What kick was he
                    getting out of this? His maze gets deeper in that his elaborate phony articles tended to embed hints about hoaxing
                    itself--as if taunting the stupid reader to wake up and get wise. This kind of over-weaning grandiosity appears in other
                    literary branches of the hoax genre--as, for instance, in Robert Abbott, one of the great but generally unrecognized
                    hoaxers of the early twentieth century, using fake news articles to make his Chicago Defender the most influential
                    medium for African American readers of its day, circulating nationally.

                    I know about Abbott because I unearthed
                    Florida's 1923 Rosewood atrocity, tracking down the survivors and witnesses who really were there, and who
                    confirmed that Abbott's front-page riff on Rosewood on January 13, 1923, was a complete fake, even with a fake hero,
                    "Sgt. Ted Cole," and many other sheer inventions (an academic committee on Rosewood has agreed the article was fake).
                    The creative process seemed to run away with Abbott, creating even a fake correspondent from whom the piece
                    allegedly came, "Eugene Brown."

                    In Glass and Abbott and others, some internal balance seemed to tip, so that
                    inward disdain for the suckers so thoroughly mastered the process that it began to peek out blatantly. To me it
                    seems that such hoaxing provides clues to a way of understanding psychology. With Abbott, it turns out that a
                    number of his articles were faked--including some in his campaign, well known to biographers, that played a
                    major role in persuading black southerners to move north in the Great Migration of the World War I era, the
                    process that began creating the northern urban ghettos. Hoaxes can be far-reaching.

                    Perhaps Eugenio Battaglia has some background on the Yellowcake Hoax, said to have originated in Italy
                    and playing a role in bringing about the US invasion of Iraq in 2003--a many-illusioned fiasco (e.g., WMDs)
                    that has torn apart international relations and the Middle East.

                    Somewhere behind each hoax there is fascinating psychology.

                    JE comments:  The story of the Rosewood massacre is most appropriate for MLK Day.  Gary, could you tell us more about how Abbott's writings motivated African Americans to move northward?

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                    • Yellowcake Hoax (John Heelan, UK 01/16/18 4:39 AM)
                      Gary Moore wrote on January 15th: "Perhaps Eugenio Battaglia has some background on the Yellowcake hoax, said to have originated in Italy."

                      Some people believed that the Yellowcake hoax originated in Israel.

                      "Operation Plumbat": "Mossad agents arranged to set up a fictitious company called Biscayne Trader's Shipping Corporation in Liberia to purchase an ocean freighter; this became the Scheersberg A (Scheersberg is a town in northern Germany, near the border with Denmark). With the assistance of a friendly official at a German petrochemical company, $3.7 million was paid to Union Minière for 200 tonnes of yellowcake uranium. The yellowcake was left over inventory from uranium mined from Shinkolobwe. This was loaded onto the newly renamed freighter and a contract was arranged with an Italian paint company for the yellowcake to be processed."

                      Further, "the CIA dispatched US diplomat Joseph Wilson to investigate. Given the imbroglio that has resulted, its not surprising that the African uranium claim has become emblematic of a larger intelligence debacle. But all the ballyhoo surrounding Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, has obscured a much clearer case of exaggeration in the run up to the war in Iraq: aluminum tubes." (http://foreignpolicy.com/2005/11/23/its-not-about-the-yellowcake/ )

                      JE comments:  The Yellowcake incident received a good deal of WAIS attention in 2005.  See the following:

                      Randy Black:  http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=6543&objectTypeId=793&topicId=6

                      Tim Brown:  http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=7829&objectTypeId=2079&topicId=1

                      Miles Seeley:  http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=7840&objectTypeId=2090&topicId=1


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                      • Questions about the Yellowcake Hoax; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/17/18 1:48 AM)

                        Gary Moore writes:

                        I'm a bit confused by John Heelan's interesting information (16 January) on the yellowcake hoax (or yellowcake forgery).

                        If Mossad deployed an actual fake ship, why did the intelligence fabricator in Italy need to fake a report on it?
                        Was the ship John named said to be headed for Iraq? I don't see where this tantalizing clue plugs in.  (I have read the
                        old Iraq-invasion-era WAIS posts that JE considerately listed, and I think my agreement is with the post by
                        Miles Seeley: a whole range of deceptive ploys--including aluminum tubes, mislabeled weather stations,
                        the Prague Rumor, and on and on--were used in blatant disregard in order to make a case for disastrous

                        Whether Bush and others knew the ploys were fake when endorsing them would seem beside the point.

                        JE comments:  Were Bush & Co. deceived, or did they deceive us?  To me the question is crucial, especially given the unending war that resulted.

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                  • Cannons, Canons, Kanun...and Kanuni Suleyman (Edward Jajko, USA 01/18/18 7:01 AM)
                    To expand on Gary Moore's aside (January 14) on the philologically rich word "canon" and its use in the Middle East, where he says it appears in Islam as Kanun:

                    The word is indeed found in Islamic society, but this is because the Greek word κανων (I regret that I cannot supply the appropriate circumflex accent mark) was borrowed into Arabic very early. Arabic moved into and settled in areas of Greek language and culture and absorbed words; others were already in Arabic before the Islamic conquests. Greek κανων became Arabic قانون, "qanun," both vowels long. "Qanun" means law, rule; the word also refers to an Arab, Persian, and Turkish zyther. Ottoman Turkish قانون became Republican Turkish kânun. The emperor known in the West as Suleiman the Magnificent was known to the East as قانوني سليمان, in modern Turkish Kânuni Süleyman, i.e., Suleiman the Lawgiver.

                    Further examples of the use of the word: even modern Arab civil law is qanun, plural qawanin. In 1025 Avicenna (Ibn Sina) wrote his medical encyclopedia القانون في الطب - al-Qanun fi al-tibb, a title that is generally translated in the Latin as "Canon Medicinae" and in English as "The Canon of Medicine." A better translation might be "The Rule Book: On Medicine."

                    JE's use of "can(n)ons" is clever and appropriate, since both words, "canon" and "cannon," seem to derive from the same source. The Greek κανων and related καννα seem to derive from Semitic, specifically Akkadian KANU(M), a word that could go back 4,500 years or more, and the perhaps equally ancient Hebrew cognate קנה, qaneh.

                    The word that originally meant a reed or similar tube or stick split into two meanings, the first a means of measuring; then measurement, guidance, or law; then a number of other meanings; on the way, it referred to a musical instrument, a chorale-like musical performance, the most sacred part of the Mass, and a personage holding a particular ecclesiastical office. Among other things.

                    The other split-off from the words meaning a perhaps hollow reed or tube developed into a word meaning a tube of indeterminate size that could shoot out a projectile powered by gun powder.

                    What I am still undecided about is if Arabic قانون qanun is a word that continued the Semitic tradition from the Akkadian, Hebrew/Canaanite, and no doubt other related languages, or if it is a relatively newer reformation into a Semitic language of a borrowed Indo-European word that had a Semitic source. والله اعلم - Only God knows.

                    JE comments:  The above, WAIS Friends, is the Canon on can(n)ons.  No mortal can rival Pan Jajko in philology.  Shall we go one step further, to northern Arizona, and add canyons to our inquiry?  Massive holes in the ground also trace their origins back to the primordial reed or tube.

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                    • Canons and Pilas; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/18/18 3:21 PM)

                      Gary Moore writes:

                      Edward Jajko’s magnificent dissection (18 January) of the word-cluster cannon/canon,
                      tracing both “cannon” and “canon” to conceptual roots in a hollow tube,
                      reminds of the mysteries of Spanish: a “pila” is a cement milestone marker
                      by the roadside, but also is a battery in a flashlight—so the nosy traveler
                      thinks: “Aha! The hidden conceptual commonality is 'cylinder' or cylinder-like object." 

                      But then there is the side-yard “pila” where tireless laundresses
                      scrub clothes in a heavy cement sink—not cylindrical at all. So does this then
                      push the detective work into a more inclusive category, as with Edward’s
                      reed/tube, so that “pila” becomes “any weighty object that can stand upright”--almost a stella? There is the schoolroom boast: “English is synthetic;
                      Spanish is analytic.”

                      JE comments:  Perhaps it's easier to see these anomalies in other people's languages.  The great Borges reminded us that "cleave" (in English) means both itself and its opposite--to divide and to cling/adhere.  The opposite phenomenon is "ravel" and "unravel," morphological antonyms that have identical meanings.

                      Our own "pile" is no stranger to strangeness.  Besides a mountain of stuff, it can mean a vertical stake (pile-driver), the fluffy surface of a cloth or carpet--and if you add an S, you get hemorrhoids.


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                      • Fun with Latin: Pilum, Gladius, Vagina (Edward Jajko, USA 01/19/18 4:21 AM)
                        This is irresistible. First, many thanks to Gary Moore for his kind words of January 18th. Second, with regard to "pila," Spanish is of course neo-Latin, and one must look to the mother language for guidance. According to latin-dictionary.net, which derives its definition from the 1982 Oxford Latin Dictionary, Latin "pila," a feminine word of the first declension, means: "1. funerary monument w/cavity; 2. low pillar monument; 3. pier, pile; 4. squared pillar." One might add the neuter word of the second declension, "pilum," which means "1. javelin, heavy iron-tipped throwing spear; 2. pike." This seems to cover almost all of the words brought up by Gary and JE. "Piles" seems to derives through Old English from Latin, again, "pilae."

                        Since WAIS is interested in things martial: The "pilum" was the standard-issue weapon that the Roman soldier carried, in addition to his "gladius," his short sword (which I add, for the fun of it, he kept sheathed in his "vagina").

                        As I said, irresistible.

                        JE comments:  Absolutely.  Etymology may be the mother of all understanding.  (Entomology is pretty darn interesting, too--although ickier.  Or how about Theology, a frequent topic on WAIS, vs Ichthyology?)

                        And then there's Isandlwana (South Africa).  Next, Tim Ashby reports.

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            • Science, Religion, and the Ignorant Masses (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/09/18 9:13 AM)
              I must admit that I was not expecting such controversy regarding my comparison between Science and Religion. Some WAISers, quite vehemently, and in an eloquent, vigorous and possibly arrogant way, have criticized my statement that science was a modern religion.

              First, I did not assert that science = religion. Of course they are two different subjects. However, because I belong to that "grossly ignorant masses of mental laziness," in Tor Guimaraes's words, and I believe there are billions of us grossly ignorant folks, I dared to describe the effects of science and religion on common people.

              Suppose for instance that you belong to the ignorant masses, and you are told by scientists that the smallest material particle is the atom, and that nuclear energy is obtained by the disintegration of uranium atoms, except you never have seen an atom, nor do you know exactly what nuclear fission is; if you want to be certain about this fact, either you believe the scientific assertion--have "faith" in it--or you decide to study physical science and conduct experiments in your own lab to confirm what you have been told. The answer is obvious.

              The fact is that for us, the common ignorant masses, whether nuclear energy is produced by nuclear disintegration or by some magical scientific power is indifferent. I could believe either one. Nowadays, we are guided to accept scientific theories as ultimate truths, despite the fact that many of them eventually were replaced by new more advanced discoveries or other theories.

              To believe in the existence of some God is a question of faith, and the priest guides you to "interpret and understand" its ultimate truth with its religious supernatural mysteries and myths. Religions also evolve in their own way.

              Are there similarities?

              JE comments:  I'm with José Ignacio here.  Like him, I am also quite surprised by the longevity of this discussion.  Apologists for "science=truth" will naturally resist any comparison with religion.  Is there anything more to say?

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              • "Science is the New Religion": What Does This Mean? (A. J. Cave, USA 01/11/18 5:07 AM)
                There is a lot more to unpack in the religion vs science thread.

                I have used a variation of the "science is the new religion" catchphrase myself. ‎Here is the context:

                Since the 19th century, ‎our lives have become irrevocably tied to science. While science was (and remains) conservative, scientists were (and are) anything but conservative. They were considered eccentric iconoclasts--what we call "nerds" in modern jargon.

                While the Scientific Revolution ‎has profoundly changed the Western world and views, the marriage of science and religion has never been a happy one. Armed with experimentations and observations, scientific explanations started to replace traditional religious ones. With the twins of biology and geology, scientists started to think creatively about the origins of life. Science eventually became the new religion. Today, natural history (biological and geological) is no longer debated, but neither is it believed by the ultra religious.

                The 19th century was also the height of the Western quest for tracing the Biblical people and places. Discovering and cracking the code of cuneiform script‎ turned out to be a lot more than what anyone had bargained for: the Biblical scripture and the Babylonian accounts didn't exactly match and the results were unsettling to deeply religious Christians. Discovery of non-biblical people (like the Sumerians) contradicted the Biblical view that all (wo)men had descended from the biblical Adam. Now Adam of the Bible who had been considered the first man created by God, was no longer the first man created by God.

                For more "bad" news, tangible evidence from Assyrians and Babylonians (and other ancient civilizations) challenged Biblical chronology and the short age of mankind. The Sumerian story of a catastrophic flood unleashed a few thousands earlier than the Biblical story of Genesis, was the handiwork of the great god Enlil.

                The crisis of faith and loss of religion was not a liberating experience. There was neither emotional gratification nor intellectual satisfaction in an optional God.

                One of the most eloquent laments was the famous Dover Beach poem by the English poet Matthew Arnold published in 1867:

                ‎"The Sea of Faith"

                ...and we are here as on a darkling plain

                swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

                where ignorant armies clash by night.

                JE comments:  If science toppled religion beginning in the Enlightenment, does it come as any surprise that the former would replace the latter?  This is how I understand A. J. Cave's post.  And yes, there is little satisfaction (comfort?) to be found in an "optional" God.

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                • Donation of Constantine; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/13/18 4:28 AM)

                  Gary Moore writes:

                  This is in response to A.J. Cave's enumeration (January 11th) of how Bible literalism has had to ignore archaeology.

                  (I'd never thought about the fact that Adam couldn't be the first man and also be 5,000
                  years old, if profuse evidence shows the Sumerians were older.  This is a whole different
                  difficulty from the Creationists denying paleontology.)

                  My odd thought in response is that the belief
                  process now sounds much like belief a thousand years ago--say, around 1018 AD--when the popes
                  believed in the Donation of Constantine, though later popes, even in the 1500s, began to crumble
                  and agree with scholar Lorenzo Valla that this hoary old writ (giving the entire Western Roman empire
                  to Pope Sylvester I) was a hoax, a fake, a "pious fraud."

                  Apparently it was penned around 700-800 AD,
                  when the Church was desperately seeking to prove it shouldn't be attacked by various hordes
                  of the Dark Ages, and since it purported to be from a time hundreds of years even earlier, the Dark
                  Ages was unlikely to be able to check. Even in those years, though, its use of bloopers like "satraps,"
                  "consuls," and other anachronisms should have made its fakery obvious, but there was a lack of will
                  to compare and contrast. We may never know the specific monk or canon who sat down to create this
                  whopper, though the Internet Age is strange. Will he be on YouTube someday?

                  The centuries-long
                  inviolability of the Donation's illusion circles back to my original question in this thread: All the time,
                  we use the word "faith." But what is it? Is faith (at the most stellar height of irreverence) like a physiological
                  climax, something you can sort of make yourself do--though not exactly on purpose? Or is it the
                  manifestation of just the right convergence of upbringing and stress? Or, of course, there's Adam's answer,
                  from 5,000 years ago.

                  JE comments:  Faith as orgasm?  There may be something to the comparison.  As Gary Moore points out, both are sort of voluntary, sort of not.  And it's ultimately up to you to get there, even when others are involved.

                  The Donation of Constantine may have been the biggest charitable contribution of all:  handing the entire Roman Empire to the papacy.  Imagine, say, a letter from President Trump giving a US state to WAIS.  (I trust it won't be a s*%#hole state.) 

                  This gets me thinking:  why don't we start a WAIS thread on History's Hoaxes?  It's Godwin time:  remember the Hitler Diaries from 1983?

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              • Science, and Cause and Effect (Henry Levin, USA 01/11/18 7:27 AM)
                There is something missing from the Science-Religion discussion. Science is not only about prediction through experimental or quasi-experimental means. It is also about theory and verifiable mechanisms that link such prediction. That is, science can provide an explanation for what appears to be cause and effect, an interpretation beyond correlation. Religion provides stories of miracles which are not validated by scientific method and cannot be tested. If people want to believe in miracles, that is their prerogative. If they want to believe in cause and effect without a validated mechanism, that too is their prerogative.

                This does not mean that science is all-knowing or can be. Science is imperfect and is always evolving, but is more democratic in the sense that an outsider can use acceptable methods to "test" a finding and interpretation and others can judge their veracity. It is a dynamic process in which earlier understandings and "facts" can be contradicted by careful scientific methods because we have criteria to make those judgments.

                But, when a body of doctrine has declared the world is 5,000 years old and that all living things were deposited in the world at one time, I am more likely to be persuaded by the scientific alternatives and explanations on the age and development of the universe and the cosmological explanations and evolution. This is a different sphere than that of morality or ethics or establishing a social code and process for distinguishing right from wrong. I will rely on good "religious" values and empathy with other humans to address these questions, not the scientific developments that brought us the efficiency of the gas chambers or nuclear fission.

                JE comments:  To sum up:  Causality is one thing, morality another.  I think we can all agree on this.

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              • Even Newton, Einstein, and Curie Could Be Ignorant (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/12/18 3:51 AM)

                In response to José Ignacio Soler (January 9th), I did not mean to insult anyone. 

                Please understand that we are all members of the ignorant and mentally lazy masses. Ignorance and mental laziness is a matter of degree among humans.  Even the great scientists had moments of ignorance: Newton fumbled around and was basically pushed into his great conclusions.  Einstein thought the Big Bang was a stupid notion. Madame Currie died of cancer because she did not know about radioactivity.

                JE comments: Madame Sklodowska-Curie knew about radioactivity; she just didn't know it kills you.  Science may or may not be a religion, but its liturgy has changed over the last century:  scientists no longer experiment (inoculate, medicate, radiate) on themselves.

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            • Political Power of Ignorance: What's That? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/09/18 10:09 AM)
              I love it when John Eipper gets analytical, because I know deep in his mind he has a lot to contribute. {Thanks, Tor!--JE.]

              I wrote on January 6th, "The ignorance of the masses and mental laziness should receive no respect." John responded, "Does such a pronouncement make the ignorance and mental laziness, if we call it that, go away?"

              We all know that fighting ignorance and laziness (mental or otherwise) is a never-ending uphill struggle absolutely essential for real democracy. The alternative is to slowly allow entropy to engulf us all. Further, over millennia, most nations have a strong legal precedent for this notion: Ignorance of the Law is no excuse. We all should know the Law and Science.

              Last, unfortunately I have no idea what John is saying with "Ignorance and laziness have political and military power." Sorry.

              JE comments: For starters, how about Climate Change Denial (should this be capitalized?), and removing the US from the Paris Accords?

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