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Post Why the Scientific Method is not a Religion
Created by John Eipper on 01/06/18 7:57 AM

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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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          • Robert Abbott, "Chicago Defender" and Great Northward Migration; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/21/18 9:24 AM)

            Gary Moore writes:

            Once again Edward Jajko’s philology has helped me see what was before my eyes.
            How to reconcile all the Spanish forms of “pila”? Even English has the Latinate clue:
            Pila = any kind of PILLAR. This wonderful kind of poetic conceptualization, whether
            or not also found in English [piles/pillar/piledriver], would seem to deserve a special bow.

            But with that said, I’ll veer back wrenchingly to a question from JE several days ago.  John asked me
            to trace how Robert Abbott and his Chicago Defender newspaper were major forces
            in the Great Migration of African Americans around the time of World War I,
            helping form the northern urban racial ghettos and with a sequel of racial violence
            (the Chicago riot of 1919 was a landmark, but less remembered were the
            “bombing wars,” marking out the South Side ghetto),

            Robert Abbott, born on the Georgia coast into complex circumstances,
            was anomalous when he went north in the 1890s, because at that time
            it was a truism that African Americans lived in the South, though there
            were communities in cities like Chicago, where Abbott went. There he started
            his newspaper for African American readers around 1905, as a one-page gossip
            and ad sheet laid out on his landlady’s kitchen table. But his obviously brilliant
            mind soon fixed on a distant example, William Randolph Hearst, who, with Joseph
            Pulitzer, had invented “yellow journalism”—huge headlines, sometimes in red,
            for sensationalistic stories flogging emotion rather than information.

            Abbott so completely saw the lesson that before 1920 his Chicago Defender
            was sued by the Hearst corporation for not just borrowing style but exactly
            duplicating the Hearst masthead, in efforts to pretend to actually be a Hearst
            paper. The suit forced Abbot to change from a Hearst eagle emblem to his
            later Egyptian Sphinx logo. Around 1910, he had hired J. Hockley Smiley, the
            son of a well-respected Chicago caterer but with an eventually fatal drinking
            problem, and Smiley, as all agree, helped show Abbott how to not simply dress
            up the news, but fabricate it. The technique of outrageous hoax news—going
            far beyond Hearst, whose audience would have been able to check—was formidable
            when aimed at an artificially information-starved readership desperate for discourse
            and usually in no position to verify what the suddenly mushrooming Chicago Defender
            said. Abbott was apparently genuinely outraged by racial atrocities, but his coverage
            repeatedly took wire-service boilerplate and then performed the seemingly impossible,
            making real atrocities worse than they actually were—while inventing the occasional
            outrage out of whole cloth, and, especially, rearranging violent outbreaks to create
            extreme demons and angels.

            This alone, of course, would have been unlikely to cause
            any mass exodus from the South, but Abbott took more direct aim at that possibility.
            His “Great Northern Drive” project began using the Defender in ways large and small to
            promise paradise in the North as a panacea for hell in the South, while sometimes spying
            great masses of enthusiastic northward train passengers who, it seems, weren’t quite real.
            But soon reality followed image, as real people rushed to join the described throngs.
            By that time the Defender was circulating throughout the South, sent by train to local
            distributors in places like barbershops, to be passed hand to hand or read aloud, with
            each copy said to reach many hearers.

            The dismal comment on American information
            was that these consumers, facing “black brute” smugness in the mainstream white press,
            were pushed to the alternative of Robert Abbott’s almost tragicomically make-believe universe,
            wreathed in the paper’s black-exploitation ads for skin whiteners, hair straighteners,
            and get-rich-quick schemes. There were other African American-oriented papers,
            such as James Weldon Johnson’s New York Age, that weren’t like this,
            though even in them the pressures could bring fainter echoes of the theme.
            Abbott, focused impressively on circulation numbers, was able to generate
            what even sympathetic biographers have characterized as something approaching
            a mass mania among some black Southerners, a “fever” to move north.

            This wasn’t in a vacuum; Abbott’s arch-enemy, Jamaica-born leader Marcus
            Garvey, was at the same time generating less successful but widespread emotion
            for a back-to-Africa solution by emigration to Liberia.
            Naturally, with the labor shortages and other effects of World War I, there was
            going to be movement north with or without the Chicago Defender’s urging,
            but there seems to be general agreement that Robert Abbott’s inspiration did play
            a significant role in helping reshape the nation—a story that could easily be (and
            has been) idealized—though the pathologies behind the Sphinx masthead were intense.

            Abbott was a profoundly mysterious impostor not only in print but personally,
            as his most extensive biographer, African American journalist Roi Ottley, has shown
            (writing in a biography initiated by and approved by Abbott’s heirs): Becoming
            one of the nation’s first black millionaires on his Defender formula, Abbott would
            attend the Chicago Opera in his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce (he apparently never
            learned to drive himself), carrying a gold-headed cane and, unfathomably, embarrassing
            companions by launching into bursts of gibberish, which he apparently hoped
            would make him look to opera-goers like visiting African royalty.

            While his newspaper
            presented a hero for racial justice (and gave lavish front-page coverage to any travels
            by the editor), he sequentially married two different women much younger than himself,
            both of whom were so light-complexioned that observers thought they were white.
            When the first marriage led to bitter divorce, he searched until he could repeat the process.
            Both wives were said to agree (there were the divorce papers) that throughout matrimony
            the editor insisted they call him “Mr. Abbott,” even in the bedroom. The dismal distortions
            of those years point up the urgency behind the black pride movement of the 1960s.

            Robert Abbott’s story has repeatedly been told, the full pattern of creating a fantasy universe,
            as replacement for a distorted world, is seldom brought together in a way that can reach general
            opinion--perhaps since such frankness would require such extraordinary care, on the tightrope
            of racial animosities and illusions in a tense society, that fleeting examiners stray a bit more
            toward Abbott’s own kind of solution, arranging angels and demons to fit. The overall implication
            is on the context of public discourse that all concerned observers depend on: under unavoidable and
            perhaps inescapable societal pressures, there can be large gaps and pitfalls in what we routinely accept
            as honest characterization of the world, and especially of history.

            JE comments:  I had to peak at Wikipedia:  Abbott died in 1940, and was an early US practitioner of the Baha'i religion.  Baha'i does not seem to be in step with his lavish lifestyle.  Also, and I learned this from WAISer Vincent Littrell, Baha'is do not acknowledge the existence of different "races," but stress the oneness of humanity.  How does this jibe with publishing a newspaper for a strictly African American audience?

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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, Religion, and an "Optional God" (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/22/18 1:24 PM)
        A. J. Cave wrote on January 11th: "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." These poetic words may be true for some people but are not true for me.

        My long search and discovery of a God based on reality instead of mysticism and superstition has given me both emotional gratification and intellectual satisfaction. The search and discovery of truth is, like any other virtue, its own reward. The process itself is a must but the results are extremely fulfilling.

        Discovering truth is a marvelous process because it only leads to new and larger, more exciting mysteries to be deciphered. Thus most human activities pale in comparison to searching for truth in whatever area interests us.

        I take exception to A.J.'s statement, "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."

        Science has not became a new religion because religion is faith-based myth and superstition, while science is ultimately based only on observable, testable, repeatable facts. The ultra religious are like drug addicts; they do not care about facts and the truth.

        JE comments:  If I may say so, A. J. Cave and Tor Guimaraes are talking past each other.  Science is not a religion in essence, but fervent believers in science treat it with a religious reverence.

        Can we "unpack" Tor Guimaraes's last statement?  Does religion satisfy the same pleasure centers in the brain as drugs?  Is it as addictive?  "Opiate of the masses" and all that?

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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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