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A Pope in sheep’s clothing…

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 18, 2014

Pope Francis or maybe I should say Pope Atheist the first.

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Well, maybe he is only an agnostic, but some the things being said by Pope Francis…well, he sure as hell isn’t Catholic, if you forgive the word choice.

As an evangelical atheist, I must also declare this Pope the most dangerous person to atheism. Perhaps for too many years the atheist community as relied too much on the religious leaders to also be villain types such as Pope Benedict, or if they were charismatic they were also crazy and hate filled.

What we must now face in Pope Francis, a likeable religious figure who speaks to the people…and worst of all, on many of the most important issues facing humanity…well, he has abandoned doctrine in favor of reasonable good solutions.

Francis was Time’s ‘Person of the Year’…one of only three popes who have received such distinction. The others where Pope John 23, who received for his efforts to mediate the Cuban Missile crisis just before his death, and John Paul the second for his wish was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”…after 15 plus years as Pope. Francis got the title just 9 months into the gig.


As a side note, only one person was named Person of the Year 3 times, FRD, and a lot have been there twice, about 13, notably Stalin 1939 and 1942. For reference, there have been 101 persons of the year, 12 groups and 3 things.

A number of atheist, secular, LGBT groups…I should note that the gay magazine icon The Advocate also selected the Pope as man of the year…as well as these progressive, socialist and even communist groups…poverty advocates and many others have praised Pope Francis for his conciliatory words. The open hand that he is presenting to groups and causes that were seen as taboo in previous papacies.

In September I think, he came out and in commenting on Jesus said that some in the church say “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good”. He then commented that the church “were a little intolerant”. Then capped it with “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ, all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! Even the atheists. Everyone!” exclamation point.


He then followed that up with “if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge” and just a few weeks ago he said “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently…the church cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods”.

He also announced at the end of the Third Vatican Council that, and I quote here…“modern and reasonable religion, which has undergone evolutionary changes. The time has come to abandon all intolerance. We must recognize that religious truth evolves and changes. Truth is not absolute or set in stone. Even atheists acknowledge the divine. Through acts of love and charity the atheist acknowledges God as well, and redeems his own soul, becoming an active participant in the redemption of humanity.”


“Through…prayerful contemplation we have gained a new understanding of certain dogmas. The church no longer believes in a literal hell where people suffer. This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God. God is not a judge but a friend and a lover of humanity. God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace. Like the fable of Adam and Eve, we see hell as a literary device. Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God”

Okay…there is a lot there but is it me or is he trying to redefine Catholicism?

As a philosophy, I cannot help but see that what he is doing is saying God…the concept…has evolved…that it’s not necessarily a white wrathful guy in the sky but a concept that evolves over time.

To embrace god is not to worship but to not be alone…so god is the community?

Also note how he solves the problem of evil


This reminds me of many a conversation I have had with friends religious and not. When asked “how can you be an atheist, when you cannot state with absolute certainty that there is no God”. I respond that first, the Abrahamic concept of god is logically contradictory…so, although spiritual ideas like “god is love” are possible but meaningless, the god of the bible IS impossible by its own definition.

What Francis is seeming to say, whether this is rhetoric or not, is that god is love…and it is no longer the god of the bible…that the bible itself is metaphor…and by doing so, to the unenlightened he makes god far more palatable is no less implausible.

The Pope claimed “Whether we worship at a church, a synagogue, a mosque or a mandir, it does not matter. Whether we call God, Jesus, Adonai, Allah or Krishna, we all worship the same God of love. This truth is self-evident to all who have love and humility in their hearts!”… All religions are true because they are true in the hearts of all those who believe in them. What other kind of truth is there? In the past, the church has been harsh on those it deemed morally wrong or sinful. Today, we no longer judge. Like a loving father, we never condemn our children. Our church is big enough for heterosexuals and homosexuals, for the pro-life and the pro-choice! For conservatives and liberals, even communists are welcome and have joined us. We all love and worship the same God.”

Small note, the NAMES of god, are actually all Judeo-Christian names of god…not sure if that is an oversight or a weasel sentence…I think weasel.

“God is changing and evolving as we are, For God lives in us and in our hearts. When we spread love and kindness in the world, we touch our own divinity and recognize it. The Bible is a beautiful holy book, but like all great and ancient works, some passages are outdated. The time has come to see these verses as later interpolations, contrary to the message of love and truth, which otherwise radiates through scripture. In accordance with our new understanding, we will begin to ordain women as cardinals, bishops and priests. In the future, it is my hope that we will have a woman pope one day. Let no door be closed to women that is open to men!”

Well, that’s a lot. Let’s take it apart and see what he says and what it might mean.

The first comments were about opening the doors to the church. Let everyone in…even the gays. He says the church should not judge them, but then again he did not say that it was okay to be gay or an atheist…just don’t turn them away. And this is the rhetoric that is garnering him the headlines. But is it all talk?

Why would he want sinners…and he still thinks they are sinners. In a recent report the Pope expressed that same-sex marriage and I quote here “anthropological regression” and that in 2010 he said that same-sex marriage is a weakening of the institution of marriage, an institution that has existed for thousands of years and is “forged according to nature and anthropology.” The Pope was “shocked” by the Civil Unions Bill, “which will allow gay couples to adopt children” and encouraged the local bishop to denounce the law.

Now his stance on women is not a rosy as the one line “my hope that we will have a woman pope one day”…He stated in an interview that…

“It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.”

So, women who wish to be treated equal are being machismo…in this context I think he is referring to overly aggressive…i.e. women acting like men…implicitly he is saying women are not equal to men…they are a different species, or something. He followed that up with…

“Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity.”

So, he is saying women deserve respect…but that has nothing to do with their role or function in the church…there they can be treated…if I may quote civil rights jargon…separate but equal, they get equal dignity but not equal roles. So, a woman cannot be pope…a contradiction. So, much for papal infallibility.

He goes on…“We must therefore investigate further the role of women in the church. We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”

So, he does acknowledge the church must be more inclusive of women, but that in the eyes of God, they are not religiously equal to men…interesting.

He even makes an attempt to quote ‘reach immigrants’…this is a major issue not so much in the USA, where the only good illegal immigrant is a dead one, but in Europe the issue is more complex if not any less deadly.

He said on the topic…“Racism today is the ultimate evil in the world. When Italians, Spanish or French turn back the boats of African migrants seeking a better life, are they not like the inn keeper who told Mary and Joseph that there was no room for them and the infant Christ? These migrants are children of God and we are commanded to love them! Those who would dare to turn immigrants away, be they legal or undocumented, turn their backs on Christ himself! A racist is not a true Christian. He is the embodiment and personification of evil, a Satan!”

Pope Francis stated “because Muslims, Hindus and African Animists are also made in the very likeness and image of God, to hate them is to hate God! To reject them to is to reject God.”

And if that was not plain enough, he doubled down with the big excommunication, saying…“those who seek to deny a home to the migrant risk their membership in the church. We will consider excommunication for those whose souls willingly dwell in the darkness and evil of intolerance and racism. Satan himself is a metaphor or a personification, for the collective evils of mankind. Today, these evils manifest foremost as racism, intolerance, religious persecution and bigotries of all kinds.”

Soo, it looks like the entire Tea Party Caucus et al in the US and like many in Harper’s cabinet are at risk of damnation of their imaginary souls.

It’s funny in a not ‘really funny’ way, that there is push back on the Popes stated stance from some prominent…self-loathing maybe…Cardinals.

Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria asked, “What do we stand for if we declare that truth is relative? On the contrary, truth exists independently of our personal feelings. All of this talk of love and tolerance is hollow if we have no identity of our own, if we stand for nothing. I charge that Francis has become a heretic, and that he is not a valid Pope. Indeed, Francis is no longer even a Catholic. The seat of Saint Peter is vacant. The Vatican has embraced moral relativism on abortion and homosexuality. At the same time it is embracing moral absolutism in favour of illegal immigration and cultural genocide against Europe.”

Cardinal Arinze said “Francis is a fool if he thinks that his liberal immigration policy will end well. He has betrayed western civilization. Vatican City will one day become a giant mosque if things continue in Europe along their present course. Those in the West who ignore this truth, do so at their own peril.”

Now, on this issue, I will give him props. Moving on.

That said, Pope Francis has emphasized in his charm offensive, not acceptance of non-believers…sinners…women…but a quote ‘inclusiveness’.

He stated many times that the church needs to be less exclusive and more inclusive. He stated that “Jesus didn’t tell the apostles or us to form an exclusive group, a group of the elite” The pope says he said “Go and make disciples of all nations… welcoming others as true brothers and sisters…”

Now, it is when he starts to preach against exclusiveness that he starts to sound like a communist…well a strong socialist at least.


Here he states that…“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills….As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems”

He really offended American conservatives when he stated that…“The succession of economic crises should lead to a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles,”

Reiteration words you have heard here on Radio Free Thinker, the Pope said…. Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”

He condemned “Rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that ‘throw away’ mentality which leads to a contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest,” he said.

So, the pope is not a free market capitalist, or one could get that impression. However, what does he propose to do about it…

“Effective policies are needed to promote the principle of fraternity, securing for people… access to capital, services, educational resources, healthcare and technology,” and that the Governments have a “duty of solidarity” towards poorer nations and a “duty of social justice” towards their citizens, while individuals should also practice fraternity by “sharing their wealth”, he said.

Well that’s nice, but not too different than previous popes saying we need to help the poor and starving. Francis says that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favors human beings.

Sounds like he wants the rich to help not by making a more socialistic economy and even creating a more egalitarian workplace but by charity.

Pope Benedict XVI certainly sang a different tune, denouncing Marxism as one of the great scourges of the modern age. But wait, so did Francis, he said “the ideology of Marxism is wrong.”. He softened his comments by adding “But I have met many Marxists in my life who are good people”.

There is a theme emerging. Francis is not so much changing church doctrine, again everything he has DONE has reinforced it, but he is soft peddling the rhetoric with the obvious aim of getting people into the church, once there, believe or not, the clergy has the opportunity to convert. You cannot convert an empty pew.

Pope Francis’s home region of Latin America. This is insightful because it is where the modern version of Liberation Theology arose. Liberation Theology, a Catholic phenomenon centered on actively fighting economic and social oppression, is the fascinating place where Karl Marx and the Catholic Church meet.


Though Marx was certainly an atheist, Catholics who support liberation theology understand that his attitude toward religion was nuanced. He saw it as a coin with two sides: a conservative force that could block positive changes as well as a reservoir of energy that could resist and challenge injustice.

Now, for those who are not aware, Liberation Theology can, in some ways, lay its origin to Jesus who, beyond the slavish worship of a deity, he also promote social equality…in economic equality and the value of people. The modern version of Liberation theology arose principally as a moral reaction to the poverty caused by social injustice in the American ‘banana republics’ created in Central America. The Catholic Church was one of the only institutions that could stand in opposition to the various dictatorships that plagued Central and South America.

Among the ethical clergy, the socio-economic inequality and the horrors that followed suit were intolerable and to local priests something they decided to use their position of privilege to resist. The most famous was Bishop Óscar Romero who was assassinated for his support of the poor and opposition to El Salvatore dictatorship.

Liberation Theology never truly condemned liberal capitalism, this push for socio-economic equality was in places where the distance between elite and the poor were extreme…this was the case where ethical good people who happened to be priests, used what tools they had to help the most destitute…the most repressed. That is why Liberation Theology never really took off anywhere else.

Liberation Theology is the Roman Catholic theology which interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a liberation from unjust economic, political, or social conditions. Now this was condemned by traditional Catholics such as Pope Benedict and others. It was always a sect of Catholicism that was tolerated but never accepted in the Vatican…that is until Pope Francis. Or so it seems.

He also stated that “the process of secularization tends to reduce the faith and the Church to the sphere of the private and personal.” And here we may see the true message of Pope Francis and why the atheist movement should be afraid…very afraid of Pope Frankie.

If you wonder why I am using the more pejorative name Frankie over Francis…well it’s to emphases the duplicity of the pope. He has created this progressive, inclusive, modern image called Pope Francis…man of the year, while really his policies and actions are little changed from the offensive repressive policies of the past…the real pope a crude Frankie.

When we look at the doctrinal stance of the pope, we see no movement, the only change is how the church appears to the masses.


In a time that has seen increasing loss of practitioners from Catholic churches across the globe…Francis may be trying to open the doors to people who were overtly excluded by paying lip service to openness while still maintaining the moral condemnation of these people.


How can you convert a sinner if they are not willing to cross your threshold? Frankie has, perhaps cynically or from real conviction, proposed that you get them in the church…sinner, abomination or other…once in the church you can convert them…that is the danger to atheism.

He is using the makeup of populist rhetoric to hide the ugly truth that homosexuality is still a sin, abortion is still a sin, that contraception, condoms to prevent aids is frowned upon, the women are not the equal of men…he welcomes the body…to him perhaps the soul, but with the aim not to embrace but convert the person.

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Even on poverty, there is much talk but as the head of the richest institution in the world…the Vatican controls billions worldwide…how little he has done.

It’s great theater to wash the feet of a poor woman, to kiss a deformed man but to the millions starving in Africa…what does that matter.

Pope Francis has made the Catholic Church sexy again…more acceptable, and in doing so he has created the opportunity for the clergy to infect the mind of the vulnerable. In the same way that Christian soup kitchens…the Salvation Army… provide a valuable social good but with the implicate advertisement that if you partake in our charity, you should join our church.

Atheist should be afraid because our job has become harder. We perhaps had become lazy or complacent. The previous popes’ rhetoric emphases much of the social divide, especially on topics that society has been more accepting such as homosexuality, abortion, women’s equality, AIDS and a number of other issues.

The past popes were resisting the trend not only in actions but in words, the new pope seems to have taken a lesson from his new former Fox news reporter now Vatican PR head. FOX news is infamous for saying one thing “fair and balance” while actually doing the opposite.

It seems the new atheist movement has elevated the battle for the hearts and minds of the world…and now the church is launching a counter offensive.

This could be a very interesting and rough year for atheism around the globe. I hope that actions speak louder than words…if so, the church will ultimately be weaker next year than this.

Well, i could go on and on…and i will likely do so in the New Year.

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St. Patrick’s Day…should be safe now?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 29, 2012

As our readers may have noticed this past Saturday was the official drink green beer day also known as St. Patrick’s Day. I thought we would do a little examination of this Irish and Catholic holiday. I waited till after the drinking because…well, who wants to have drunk Irish people listen to a show that might offend some Catholics. We may be skeptics but I am not that stupid. So, after the fact, here goes. Let’s start with the history and origins of the Saint.

First, we should remember the St. Patrick was not actually Irish but a British import…literally. He was captured by Irish raiders and sold into slavery. He eventually escaped; returned to Europe became a priest and went back to Ireland to wreak centuries of revenge on the Irish by converting them to Catholicism. Something Ireland has yet to fully recover from.

Actually we may have to cut Patrick some slack. According to historical evidence, notably a paper published in the 1940’s and to a large degree accepted, there were two Patricks. One is our central focus, the other being Palladius. Palladius worked the south, while Patrick worked the north. Over time, the work of both became seen as performed by Patrick alone…making it possible for him to seem to have done more work than one person could passably have. I wonder if this was one of the miracles that pushed Patrick into sainthood?

It’s also little known that he was not the first saint. The first Catholic saint and likely first dateable papal emissary was Saint Ciaran Saighir (the Elder), the first Bishop of Ossory, who worked a century before Patrick arrived on the scene. Although in some ways Ireland is a backwater compared to Rome, the Irish were well known in the heart of the former empire because of its natural resource such as gold, copper and tin. So, although Patrick has become the most famous of the Catholic evangelicals he was neither the only one nor the first.

It also seems that Ireland was NOT a Christian nation in the 5th century. What Patrick and a number of other evangelicals did was establish a solid and robust network of monasteries and strong abbots. This proved to be an important strategy for the later success of the Catholic conquest of pagan Ireland.

When Patrick died, Ireland was still a pagan country; although church chroniclers would like to claim otherwise. But the foot hold was made. Over the next 500 years the church expropriated pagan ceremonies and integrated itself into Irish culture.

It was not until 1000 CE that Armah, the monastery founded by Patrick and central to his ecclesiastical ‘empire’, became the religious capital of Ireland. This was part of a political move by the would-be upstart, soon to be High King of Ireland Brian, to gain the wealth and strategic support of the church.

It is important to remember, that in Ireland, and to a lesser degree in England, the Catholic Church was not centered on bishops and diocese (i.e. tracts of land) but around abbots and monasteries. Monasteries acted as fortress strongholds; a valuable resource in any kings’ attempt to conquer a land.

For the record, Patrick did NOT drive the snakes from Ireland. Ireland, like most islands, never had snakes. However, if one extrapolated from the Garden of Eden myth, one could see that as Patrick converted Ireland, he drove out the proponents of the tree of knowledge…i.e. the snake.

Today thought, the celebration that we know as St Paddy’s day is really an American invention. In Ireland, the day was one of many religious observances but in an attempt to retain a sense of identity, the Irish on this side of the Atlantic make it more a cultural festival of all things Irish.

Should we celebrate today?

I confess to feeling uncomfortable about celebrating a Saints day, but it seems in our culture to be far from that; that the only people who go to mass on St. Paddy’s day are devout Catholics.

Unlike Christmas, you do not get the call “remember the reason for the season”. In fact I would wager that if you asked people, 9/10…maybe more would say it’s about celebrating all things Irish.  As such, I don’t think there is any problem with this day, even for a fundamentalist atheist such as myself.

There was one issue that arose in my discussions about this…and frankly one I did not really think about until raised. Is St. Patrick’s Day reinforcing ethnic stereotypes?

Well, there are a number of traditional elements to the day. Ireland sees itself as the Emerald Isle, so the liberal application of green (to land, people, food and drink) seems harmless and appropriate.

The Shamrock does have some religious mythology behind it but is now seen as ubiquitous for Ireland…again no problem here. Leprechauns…don’t think that denigrates much. They are cast as mythic creatures and not as the Irish themselves; although they are VERY Irish.

When I say VERY Irish, I refer to another typical element of St. Patrick’s Day…drinking. It is very much a stereotype that the Irish are drunks, prone to violence (weirdly with an emphasis on domestic violence) and criminally inclined (although usually as a result of drunkenness). This is largely an English thing; take note the Scottish are also seen as violent drunks as well.

Well, it is true many cultures take pride in their ‘prowess’ with the demon drink, and I think in this regard no harm done but there is an ugly undertone that is often forgotten these days.

When we think of racism in a modern context, it is exclusively colour based. However if we go back only 100 years, there was violent and overt racism between the ‘perceived’ European races. Let us remember the paddy wagon (which referred to a portable jail cell) was named so because ‘it was always filled with paddies’ (i.e. Irish drunks).

We often have the stereotype of the Irish policeman. One reason this identification occurred was because this dangerous low-paid job was one of the few the newly immigrant Irish could get. This was also the fate of the navvy (grunt labour that dug the canals and laid the rail system in the UK) who was almost exclusively Irish.

So…there is a dark side to the history of the Irish in America (and England) but I don’t think St. Patrick’s Day glorifies this past (like Columbus Day), nor does it seem applicable to conjoin past racism with this celebration…I see no connection. Lots of celebrations have lots of drink but this does not explicitly or even especially implicitly imply the ‘drunken’ stereotype of days gone by. Lastly, it is celebration embraced by the Irish here and in Ireland, if they don’t have a problem with it, why should I?

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Double standards of terrorism – Chapter 2

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 5, 2011

The de-contextualization of terrorism?

Okay, in part one we seem to find that to call our Norwegian a “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” is valid at least in the common understanding of the idea but let’s look at what the term Terrorism has come to mean. The term itself is a relatively new one. We have always had terrorist, but they were often referred to as political or religious terrorist with membership to a particular group. This was important because it created a ‘context’ for the act.

For example, Anarchist terrorists were understood to be an Anarchist who was a “political terrorist”…when we apply it to ‘Muslim terrorist’ we do not get that context. “Political terrorists, who were anarchist, did their terrorism for political reasons…it provided not only a description of the act but also the reason for it.  Since 9/11 it has become fashionable to just label anyone who does violence and is Muslim as an ‘Islamist terrorist’ or Jihadi.

The modern term “Muslim terrorist” does not translate into ‘religious terrorist’ if it did there would not be the reticence to apply it to the IRA or our Norwegian. No, “Muslim terrorist”, in fact the term “terrorist” itself, now has the understanding as ‘Islamist terrorist…no context only a label to be applied to something we are to interpret as less than civilized…less than human; why else do we with little more than a moment’s hesitation allow those accused of terrorism (again a term that only seems to apply to those of the ‘brown’ skin) to be treated like animals by this I am referring to torture.

This de-contextualization of the term “terrorism” has allowed us to ignore the underlying cause of the act (and often such actors have legitimate grievances even if we still deplore these acts). The separation of actor and context allows us to create a scapegoat for all the ills in our society…a new link is created by this amorphous threat and the current problems in the country – “why can’t I find a job? It must be those ‘terrorist’ who are either taking my job or ruining the economy!”

This re-definition allowed us to ignore the underling context for violence and see it all as one big all-encompassing conspiracy against us…or more exactly the USA and western civilization. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of terrorist attacks by Muslims are not religious acts but political.  It ignores the fact that the vast majority of ‘terrorist acts’ (traditional definition) are committed not by Islamist but the ‘traditional’ population.

But you may say that 9-11 was an attack on the west. This too was not an attack to destroy the USA but a political message intended to have the Americans remove their troops from Saudi Arabia. 7/7 and the Madrid Bombing were likewise driven not by a desire to conquer Europe but to have the ‘western forces’ withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast number of attacks on US individuals occurs in countries they are either occupying or engaged in military operations…one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.

If we turn an eye to the terrorist threats that intend to ‘destroy’ or ‘fundamentally change’ Europe or the USA, we find “Jihadist” very low on the list. In fact, the USA far more groups exist on the extreme (and often racist) right than ‘Islamist’. The largest sources of ‘terror’ attacks in the US arise from three main groups – Anti-abortionist, white supremacist and sovereign citizens groups. The number of attacks since 9/11 on USA soil includes the Anthrax Mailer, Austin IRS building plane attack, almost a dozen attacks on Abortion clinics by groups like Army of God and let’s not forget the Holocaust museum attack by a neo-Nazi.

So in an odd way, our Norwegian qualifies as a terrorist in the modern context because like the imaginary enemy he hoped to attack his own actions lack a real context. He has created in his own mind this ‘conspiracy’ of ‘social Marxism’ to create a fictional state of ‘Eruabia’…in this line of thinking there is no context only dogma, ideology and sedition.

But was our terrorist a lone wolf or part of some large organization? What does his manifesto…his actions say about those who inspired him? We are often quick to point out links, when the actor is ‘brown’, to the Middle East, Islamic websites, Imams sermons and the polemics of Muslim nationalist. Yet, when that same analysis is applied to our Norwegian perpetrator, the xenophobic extreme right is quick to proclaim loudly their disavowing of the actor and apologetics for their role. Who should be held culpable for the creation of our Norwegian terrorist shall be the topic of the next chapter of discussion.

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Double standards of terrorism – Chapter 1

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 4, 2011

When is a terrorist not a terrorist?

As most of our listeners should know there was a horrific act of terrorism in Norway that has left over 70 dead and almost 100 injured. We have talked before about the growing sense of xenophobia that has gripped Europe. Those who thought this ‘traditionalism’ would lead mainly to increased racism and discrimination may feel shocked and the overt violence to which this line of thinking inevitably leads.

There has been a lot said about the incident and we will attempt to avoid repetition, ourselves. That said there are a few points that should be clarified and some interesting observations that can be made.

First, is he a ‘Christian fundamentalist terrorist’? To answer this we must look at the three claims made, is he a terrorist, is he a Christian and is he a fundamentalist.

According to the dictionary, terrorism is defined as

“Seriously intimidating a population; or unduly compelling a Government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act; or seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental political, constitutional, economic or social structures of a country or an international organisation.”

It is important to note that it is not the number of deaths nor the method of execution that is important but the stated aim of the perpetrator.

According to the perpetrator the intent of his actions were to “bring down the Marxist order”, by that, he hoped that with this act he would garner enough press to both disseminate his manifesto as well as inspire others to join his war on Islam. The main purpose was to compel the government to expel all Muslims and return to a culturally pure Europe. In my books this definitely qualified him as a terrorist.

Was he a Christian? According to his blog, he posted”I wasn’t particularly religious. Then I sort of glommed onto Christianity, and I realized I had to have a Christian identity”. It is true in his blog he criticizes Protestantism, not as a criticism of Christianity but because he saw it as part of the ‘cultural Marxism’ that has allowed the ‘purity of Europe to be thinned’. That a return to a more catholic type church…he even states that he had high hopes for the current Pope with what he saw as an initial hardline against Islam but was later disappointed by the consolatory attitude the Pope later took. Again by his own words he claims to be Christian, has a personal relationship with god and wishes to reinstate the Christian crusade to drive back the ‘Muslims scourge’ from Europe.

Is he a fundamentalist? This one gets more complicated. We, in North America, tend to think of fundamentalist as evangelical bible-literalist. This is not what he appears to be, there is no mention of creationism, however he does qualify I think as a fundamentalist on two grounds. Firstly, he does seem to think the current churches have lost their way and need to return to a more authoritarian and traditional role. It is the creed of tolerance and multiculturalism that he blames on the new church…creeds that are on the precipice of ‘destroying Europe’ and turning it into a ‘fundamentalist Muslim caliphate’. A fundamentalist is technically defined as someone wishing to return to ideological fundamentals…in this case a return to a medieval crusader religion.

Secondly, we think of fundamentalist as someone who wishes to create a theological state. Again in his own words, this was one of his aims; in fact because of his obsession with the religious threat posed by the ‘other’ religion (Islam), it seems his primary aim.

Irrespective of the religious overtones, the term fundamentalist can also be applied because of his “racist” (or extreme xenophobic) views; we can interpret each term (Terrorist, Christian and Fundamentalist) as three dimensions of description. His complaints about the ‘cultural Marxism’, tolerance and multiculturalism…how they have ‘corrupted and polluted’ Europe…the racial or at least cultural purity that has been the hallmark of the xenophobic movement in Europe strikes me as fundamentalist. As such his views on race and Europe do seem to qualify as fundamentalist and extremist.

So despite the protestation of the Christians, fascists and right wing; the term “Christian fundamentalist terrorist” seems applicable. If that label applies, were does the term ‘terrorist’ lead us? What use or misuse has the modern interpretation of ‘terrorist’ come to be…that we shall discuss in chapter 2.

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Talking Vaginas – How Could This Go Wrong?

Posted by Ethan Clow on July 27, 2011

I saw this on The Colbert Report a few days ago. Colbert shows this clip of a talking “vagina” from a commercial by Summer’s Eve, a company that produces feminine wash products.

Here’s the first commercial:

Are you cringing? Can’t figure out why? On the surface, it’s not a horrible commercial, people are talking about it, right? In fact, it’s part of a larger campaign by Summer’s Eve called V-Power which is designed to make women aware of their vagina’s (weren’t they already?) and educate them on how to stay healthy. That doesn’t sound too bad, women shouldn’t let modesty stand in the way of making sure their vaginas are healthy and they know how to recognize warning signs when something is wrong. And besides, it’s not like the V-Power website is all pink and frilly and stereotypical with heart-shaped vagina’s and little or no medical/biological information…oh wait. It is.

Okay, okay, but there’s bound to be some information in there that women should know about. Let’s get back to those commercials. Did you feel vaguely uncomfortable while watching the first one? Well, how about these other two? Yes, that’s right. Two more. Because Summer’s Eve realized that there were more than just white women’s vagina’s out there.


As Stephen Colbert said, those vaginas sound…urban. So now we have two areas to be skeptical in, is Summer’s Eve actually trying to educate women for the better of public health or are they just trying to create an ad campaign i.e. is their V-Power initiative actually providing any real or useful advice?  And… are they trying to do that while making bafflingly racist commercials about talking vaginas?

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The Enduring Conspiracy: Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Posted by Ethan Clow on March 1, 2011

One of the oldest and most enduring conspiracy theories is the fraudulent document known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

What are the Protocols? Where did they come from? Are they real? Who created them? These are the questions any good skeptic should be asking themselves. In reality, you’ve probably heard about the Protocols, perhaps in discussions of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust or conspiracy theories about Israel.

What you might not know is convoluted history of this fictitious document.

The Protocols were about 80 pages long and came in the form of a speech giving instructions and observations regarding a Jewish takeover of the world. These detailed plans required the destruction of all world powers, the placement of Jews in high places, the fomenting of class hatred, provoking wars, promotion of liberalism to undermine traditional values and loyalties.

When taken together, the Protocols are an elaborate manifesto with policies on foreign policy, security, armaments, monopolies, the press, tax policy and education. However, it’s clearly meant to be secret, the tone is brutally Machiavellian. It sounds like something out of an Orwellian dystopia.

Here are few snippets from the Protocols:

“It must be noted that men with bad instincts are more in number than the good, and therefore the best results in governing them are attained by violence and terrorization, and not by academic discussions.” – From Protocol 1

“Capital, if it is to co-operate untrammelled, must be free to establish a monopoly of industry and trade: this is already being put in execution by an unseen hand in all quarters of the world.” – From Protocol 5

“In countries known as progressive and enlightened we have created a senseless, filthy, abominable literature. For some time after our entrance to power we shall continue to encourage its existence in order to provide a telling relief by contrast to the speeches, party programme, which will be distributed from exalted quarters of ours.” – Protocol 14

(The full document can be read here along with several scholarly analyses.)

The Protocols emerged in Europe in the early 20th century while Europe was struggling to rebuild itself after the First World War. Shell-shocked, people were looking for someone to blame, and as usual, that meant “The Jews.”

So where did these Protocols supposedly come from? There is of course the real answer and the myth perpetuated by those of the extreme right wing.

The Protocols first appeared in Russia in 1903, published by the newspaper Znamaya. The myth states that they were recorded at the first Zionist Congress in Basal in 1897 and the Protocols themselves were spoken by Dr. Theodor Herzl (the father of zionism.) The Russian mystic Sergei Nilus included the Protocols as an appendix to his book, The Great in the Small: The Coming of the Anti-Christ and the Rule of Satan on Earth. By 1917, Nilus would go on to publish four editions of the Protocols in Russia. (Holocaust: A History, Deborah Dwork)

The edition that would go on to have the most effect was the German editor in 1919. This version was published by Ludwig Müller von Hausen. Likewise with the Russian version, he claimed that the Protocols were recorded at the Zionist Congress in August of 1897 in the Swiss city of Basal. During this conference, there were 24 secret sessions and at these sessions and there, Herzl gave the protocols to the attendees.

Afterwards, one of the transcribers was heading home and stopped in a Masonic Lodge (red flag) where an agent of the Russian Secret Police was, in exchange for a large sum of money, the Russian police officer was given one night to translate the documents. The translation was then taken back to Russia. (Voodoo Histories, David Aaronovitch)

Supposedly, that is where they were copied and discussed by the Russia, Sergei Nilus, who would later feature them in his book The Great in the Small in 1909. And would eventually find their way to von Hausen.

The Protocols were in high demand. They became common reading among the political and military leaders of Germany, perhaps because the content of the protocols seemed to cast blame for the first world war on the Jews, not the Germans.

It also had quite an effect on a 19 year old Heinrich Himmler who wrote [the protocols explained] “all and tells us against whom we must fight” in his diary.

But it wasn’t just Germany that the Protocols found acceptance, many reputable newspapers in France also praised the Protocols. As did Italian newspapers, and in Britain, the Protocols were published under the title The Jewish Peril It was received very favourable reviews and many newspapers and journals published the Protocols with other anti-Semitic tracts.

The Protocols soon spread to the US and found perhaps they’re biggest supporter, Henry Ford, founder  of Ford Motor Company, Mr. Ford found the Protocols shocking but enlightening.

Ford’s motives for embracing the Protocols are long and complicated. Ford was an extreme pacifist. He despised war and spoke vehemently against the United States entering the First World War. Like many in his day, Ford believed that war only profited banks and money lenders. As a private business man, he had no interest in such things. He also had no time for Bolshevism, which he also believed was behind the urging for war.

Ford was also an anti-Semitic and as a man of means, he decided to make his opinions known. He purchased a newspaper for the purpose of promoting the protocols and his anti-Semitism. The newspaper was called the Dearborn Independent. It soon had a readership of over 300,000. in 1920 and for 91 successive weeks, the Dearborn Independent started campaign on what it called “The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem” (Voodoo Histories, Aaronovitch)

It’s estimated Ford invested around 5 million personally into this project and it sold half a million in America. The legacy of this was felt worldwide, in fact Ford is the only American mentioned in Mein Kampf by Hitler, who was said to have “revered” Ford for his work.

So where did they come from? What’s the real truth?

The Protocols appear to be an example of what is called a “false document” meaning, it’s a work of fiction that has been made to appear to be non-fiction and this was done not as an expression of art, but rather with deceptive intentions.

It’s also an example of literary forgery.

In the 1930’s a German academic discovered some similarities between the Protocols and a work of fiction called “Biarritz” (English To Sedan ) and it was published in 1868 – 30 years before the First Congress of Zionism was even held.

In the book, written by a conservative German journalist, Hermann Goedsche, a group of Jewish leaders meet in the Jewish cemetery in Prague (the oldest in Europe) There are representatives from the 12 tribes of Israel plus the devil, who plan and discuss their objectives for world domination.

This chapter went on to be printed on its own several times in Russia in 1872 as a pamphlet with a forward saying that although it was fiction, it represented the truth. In 1881 it was published in France as The Rabbi’s Speech and consolidated all the evil plans for the 12 representatives into one speech from one Rabbi, and was supposedly a real speech given around the tomb of Grand Master Caleb, supposedly observed by an English diplomat named Sir John Readclif, which coincidently was the pen name of one Hermann Goedsche!

The connection between the Protocols and the Rabbi’s speech wasn’t enough to convince people that something misleading was happening. The structure and philosophical similarities between the two documents could have been coincidence.

However, a journalist from the London Times, who was the paper’s Constantinople correspondent decided to do some digging after the Times ran a very positive review of the Protocols.

Phillip Graves, the journalist in question, had a number of connections with Russian informants, one in particular who revealed a book written in French, from about the 1860’s or 1870’s. The book was discovered to be the work of a French lawyer named Maurice Joly.

Amazingly, the Protocols appeared to be a poorly plagiarized version of this book! Whole sections were paraphrased or in some cases, direct copy.

The book was Dialogues in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu and it wasn’t about the Jews at all. It was a political criticism of the corrupt rule of Napoleon the 3rd.

If one goes on Wikipedia, you can read side by side paragraphs from Protocols and Dialogues in Hell and see how they are practically word for word.

According to historian Norman Cohn, a total of 160 passages of Protocols (two fifths of the whole book) is lifted from Joly.

For a full timeline, tracking the real history of the Protocols, see the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum site here.

Further research implies that the Protocols may have emerged from a Russian secret police officer named Piotr Ivanovich Rachkovsky, who was also a known forger of newspaper articles. The Protocols could have been collected with bits from Joly and bits from Goedsche. Many historians believe the Protocols were meant to be Russian Monarchy propaganda, the Jews were depicted as revolutionaries and so this would draw support for keeping the Russian monarchy. In fact, the 1903 version of the protocols that appeared in Russia were for this exact purpose. (Holocaust, Dwork)

Czar Nicholas II even went on to praise the Russian secret police for their “discovery” of the Protocols and had them widely disseminated.  They also coincided with a Jewish pogrom that left thousands dead.

After much of this information came to light in the late 1920’s by journalists like Graves, support for the Protocols diminished. But then the Nazi’s came to power in 1933, and by then it was too late.

The Protocols stick around today as well. In fact many conspiracy theories that deal with world government, economics, world banks, liberalism , etc often when investigated and confronted, the evidence they put forward, often references back to the Protocols.

One of the guiding documents of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is the Covenant, a 20 page long document outlining some of the doctrines Hamas endorses. The Covenant actually references the Protocols as evidence for its conspiracy theories about Israel and the Jews.

It’s an unfortunate state of affairs that even after all this time, the Protocols still find a eager audience. Perhaps most widely believed in the middle east. Over the years there have been a number of declarations from political leaders all over the Islamic word essentially stating full belief in the Protocols and what they claim about the Jews.

No one would deny that there are numerous and well documented issues between Israel and its Islamic neighbours, but to lump pseudo-history like the Protocols in with those legitimate problems only causes more tension to an already dangerous situation.

So what are we to do? The Protocols has been one of the most enduring and widely believed conspiracy theories in history. Our goal, as good skeptics, should be to educate ourselves and our friends and neighbours. Sitting back and hoping someone will get over their belief in the Protocols is exactly what its creators would like to see us do. We must confront this pseudo-history the same way we confront UFOology, creationism or alternative medicine. Extraordinary claims, even ones found in history, still require extraordinary evidence.

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Veiled Voting or veiled racist?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 23, 2011

Previously I discussed accommodationalism involving both limits on intolerance and tolerance. In researching that post, I discovered a story that has put me in the uncomfortable position of agreeing with our Conservative government – veiled voting ban. A private members bill is making its way through Ottawa that would force those wishing to vote to be visually identified by Elections Canada. Under the current law, voters are not specifically compelled to show their faces. There is no data to suggest that face covering was actually a problem for Elections Canada staff. The agency reported that no one failed to comply with requests to identify themselves during the 2008 vote. Elections Canada has retained the right to ask someone to swear an oath attesting to their eligibility to vote, if they refuse to remove a face covering. If the voter declines the oath, the agency doesn’t let them vote. This law would allow visual confirmation that no voter fraud is being perpetrated.

Quebec Conservative backbencher, Steven Blaney who is bringing forward this private members bill, wouldn’t say his bill is aimed at Muslim women, but said there have been incidents in which voters showed up at the polls wearing ski masks or Halloween masks. I think also this extends to photo ID. There have been calls by religious or cultural fundamentalist that people be able to wear face covering FOR THEIR PHOTO ID, for such things as drivers licences or passports. This is just stupid and makes the idea of visual identification farcical.

Immigration minister Jason Kenney said “I don’t think we should be adopting the French idea of banning (the burqa)… I don’t think we should be regulating what people wear but when a citizen comes to deal with the government, particularly to exercise their right to vote, I think it’s entirely reasonable that we say we need to confirm who you are and a facial identification is a reasonable way of doing that”.

The real test for this law, and perhaps the reason it should not pass is, will it be equally applied to anyone who does not have photo id? Here we see the fine line between appropriate safe guards and racism. The purpose of this law is to ensure faces match photo id, however under current laws, those without photo id (but having an uncovered face) can vote provided they present other id. Conceptually there is no difference between the two. So if we insist that those unwilling to show their face to collaborate photo id are disallowed from voting, we should also insist that those without photo id in the first place be disallowed. Or are we willing to accommodate the forgetful but not the modest?

(Canadian edit)


What are your thoughts?

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Science, Tool of colonial imperialism?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 4, 2011

A friend of mine asked me if it wasn’t true that science…WESTERN science is really just part of the whole colonial imperialist baggage intended, and used, to diminish ‘local’ indigenous knowledge and elevate the superiority of ‘western ways of thinking’. As a believer in science, I knew he was wrong…then as an even better skeptic I thought I should exam the question.

To start with we should point out there are several ways to look at the question. First is the idea that science made ‘western’ domination possible, then the fact that science may be (claimed to be) neutral but scientists are not and lastly the idea of Scientism. I should also note that I used Europe and European but mean Western which would include Canada, the USA and those non-European countries/colonies that were largely populated by Europeans AND their ideas.

Now, it is a fact (or a quirk of history) that Europe took knowledge and technology from other cultures…altered and improved many…eventually applying them to world exploration and then domination. Europeans did not invent gunpowder but they did ‘perfect’ its use as a weapon. They did not invent oceanic travel but they did improve both the technology of ship-building and

by Jerad Diamond

navigation to the point where they could not only circumnavigate the globe but to do so regularly. Now, I don’t want to go into the why or even how Europe did this expropriation of technology that is a different question (I recommend checking out “Guns, Germs and Steel” and the response to the book). They were not the first imperial power and probably not the last, they were however the first global power.

There is a paradox in colonialism with regard to how science was able to both create and destroy civilizations. One of the greatest crimes Europeans committed (at time accidental – other times with purpose) against the indigenous people of the world was the spread of disease. However through transportation (plagues) and medicine, science was fundamental to Europe’s ability to dominate. Science caused the loss of many indigenous cultures while creating an entirely new one  for both Europeans and those they dominated.

Trade routes facilitated the spread of the plague

First you had the science of transportation. Not only did this allow Europeans to travel around the globe encountering new peoples in new lands but to take with them (unknowingly) a plethora of diseases from one continent to another. Ironically, because of the endless waves of plague and disease that ravaged Europe (also due to scientific advances in trade and travel), Europeans became a reservoir of ‘biological weapons’ like smallpox as well as the science to ‘deal’ with it like vaccination and drugs.

Painting of massive deaths in Europe due to bubonic plague

When Europeans first encountered indigenous peoples, local medicine was only adapted to local conditions…which would have little experience with highly ‘communicability’ of disease. Europeans, thanks to extensive Euro-Asian trade, were better equipped both biologically (ie natural immunity) as well as culturally to deal with ‘new’ communicable disease. Thus indigenous people died by the millions while Europeans only died by the hundreds.

Colonial governments vaccinating indigenous population

To add irony to this, science had first enabled Europeans to infect and decimate indigenous populations then, thanks to the ever increasing medical advances (spurred by the challenges to overcome new disease), science then provided a salvation for the locals to ‘save them’ from the very disease the Europeans had brought as well as the local ‘incurables’. Thus Europeans were cast as both the takers of life (because of  things like small pox) and the saviours of life (especially in the 19th century when ‘modern’ medicine really started), allowing them to take on the persona of gods while instilling a sense of inferiority in the locals.

Nigerian solder keeping guard over slaves

Now this give-and-take of science had its parallels in agriculture, mining, manufacturing and a great number of other areas of life that allowed Europeans to dominate most indigenous cultures both physically as well as psychologically. The most notable of these “other” areas is the science of warfare and in particular weapons.

Haitian revolt for independence from France

First it allowed Europeans to dominate local power structures but then provided the means for locals (friendly to the Europeans of course) to dominate their own rivals as well as offer the only effective resistance to the colonial powers. You had a situation where the only way to defend the local people from colonial invaders was to adopt the science of those very same imperialist.

Europeans splitting the Chinese pie

Now as an aside, this analysis may not completely explain colonization of the ‘old’ culture like China but if goes some ways. Of course having gotten rich and fat from the New World, when Europe turned its eyes on the ‘old’ cultures of the middle east and Asia, it was not as much science but brute force that allowed Europe to become a global power.

Okay, enough of the first part…the HOW science made western imperialism possible. Now let’s look at the idea that science is itself used as a tool of domination.

What do we mean when we say that…science is tool of domination? By this I mean that not only the fruits of science have allowed for imperialism (as already discussed) but the idea, authority or method of science itself has been used to re-enforce that dominance. This is done in two ways; first local knowledge, such as herbalism or shamanism was seen as backwards and ‘primitive’…that the only real medicine was found in a test-tube. Another way it has done this is to use (or misuse) the tools of science to make dogma seem natural and right…giving it an air of authority by the fact it is a  ‘scientific fact’ therefore supporting cultural (political, etc.) truths; for example the attempt to use biology to PROVE the superiority of whites over blacks. Another example is the Piltdown man fake.

Piltdown Man skull

For those who are not acquainted with Piltdown Man, it was a partial ‘humanoid’ skull (jaw and scull fragments). In 1912, this “missing link” was found in England by Charles Dawson. It’s ready acceptance in the scientific community was because it fit with the cultural prejudices of the time…England was THE superpower, the birth place of the industrial revolution and the ruler of billions of people around the globe. It was obvious, to those at the time that England had to be the birth place of ‘intelligent’ man. It also confirmed the assumption at the time that the brain drove the evolution of the body…ie big brains with ape bodies evolved into big brains with human bodies…notably the jaw in the Piltdown man was ape-like and the brain case human-like.

However the scientific method moved on and by mid to late 20’s other discoveries (such as Peking Man and the Tsaung Child) showed that the human body (i.e. the jaw, upright walking et al) evolved first then the brain. By 1930, Piltdown man was seen as at best an anomaly and at worst fraud…and proven a fraud by improved dating mechanism in the 1940’s.

Another great example is herbal or folk remedies. One of the greatest growth areas in pharmaceuticals is in  the natural pharmacy of evolution, found in the plants and animals of the world. Modern science is checking out rainforest plants to see if they have chemicals that help fight infections…remedies that sometimes were already known, albeit in an anecdotal way, to local ‘medicine’ men.

Aztec medicine man applying herbal remedies

Of course this leads us to the difference between scientist and science. Now medicine men may have, by trial and error, discovered some remedies in the flora/fauna of their habitat however they were not using the scientific method so were not scientists. This is an important distinction. Although it may have been wrong to ‘off handedly’ dismiss local knowledge it was still true that the average life span of the indigenous was perhaps 30, whereas

Longevity through the ages

Europeans (at least the upper classes) lived to 50-80…it was bad science to write-off local medicine without investigating but it was also obvious (now and at the time) that Europeans lived longer and thus it would be just human nature for the Europeans to be so dismissive. It became dogma (not without supporting evidence…ie. Global empires) that Europe, Europeans and the ‘western’ ways were always superior to ‘foreign’ and ‘primitive’ alternatives.

To be fair to the medicine men, they did not have the scientific method; they had to use spiritualism and religious/cultural dogma as their guides for discovery. It is by allowing dogma to rule that retarded the development of ‘traditional’ cultures (this included Europe during the religious or dark ages). Now this putting dogma ahead of the scientific method is not limited to the ‘primitive’ cultures, sadly it is all too common in modern science. The saving grace of science though is the scientific method…the method will in the long run correct the errors made by scientist be those errors purposeful or institutional/systemic.

Anatomical "proof" of racism

A great example of this ‘corrective’ nature of the method on the scientist can be seen in the ‘science’ of race and racism. Science once showed that whites were the top of a biological tree of humanity. However, in attempting to affirm previous generations results, assumptions and predictions; the scientific method began to show new generations the holes in the ‘old’ theories…they had to adjust the theory to match the evidence…they had to abandon (however slowly and reluctantly) cultural biases in the light of scientific evidence. It must be accepted that the scientific method is independent of culture but scientist are the products of culture. As such, they often carry the baggage and assumptions of the dogmas of their society which can affect how they apply the scientific method and how willing they are to follow its path.

The Scientific Method writ large

Now what do we mean by scientific method? In this context it has really three parts. One – observe the world, create a model of the world that predicts its outcomes, test those predictions, and adjust the model based on the test results then repeat.

The Second part is a commitment to follow the evidence; this is where scientists occasionally fail. Part of the method is the willingness to accept the fact that, given sufficient evidence, ANY and ALL beliefs, theories and models may be wrong and need to be adjusted to match the reality…even if that means abandoning long held ideas…like racism.

The last element is not often acknowledged as part of the method and that is intellectual compaction…that driving need all scientists have to expand the boundaries of knowledge. For those who say that once an scientific idea becomes established it cannot be challenged misses this concept…every up-and-coming scientist wants to make his name in the field…to gain immortality for their contribution to the project of human knowledge.

To that end, one of the best ways to gain this immortality is to prove the ‘old’ way of thinking wrong…to prove an established model is either incomplete or wrong. This means that every generation of scientist, by their very nature, challenge anything that had become ‘dogma’ in science and are, when successful, rewarded greatly for that challenge.

The first supper of sceince

Lastly Scientism; there are two versions of this term (both derogatory), the first is the misuse of scientific claims in fields of study they were not intended or do not apply; an example is the often misuse of quantum science by spiritualist. This definition is not the one that concerns us now; our Scientism is the idea that science itself is dogma…that the ONLY truth…the ONLY way to find the Truth is in and with science. Now this criticism is in some ways a straw man. It is true most scientists and skeptics believe that science if the best way to know the ‘truth’ about anything but that does not mean that they believe science can, in actuality, be applied (or at least applied perfectly) to every question humanity may ask.

On a recent episode we discussed the role of science in ethics. One of the points that came out was the idea that IF science could, with the same accuracy, certainty and predictability as found in physics, be applied to ethics then it could provide ALL the answers. It seems plainly true that science has absolute answers when it comes to launching a satellite into space because the problem, formulas and results are so well known and predictable. IF we could say the same for ethical questions, such as abortion, why would we NOT follow the same path?

However, it was reiterated that (at least for now and probably forever) science could not achieve this level of knowledge and that in the gaps (often very large gaps) the traditions of philosophy have their place. That, because of the complexity of the human mind and society, the role of  science may be quite limited in many of the ‘big’ questions.

This however does not mean we should not TRY and apply science (acknowledging its limitations) and TRY and limit the number of inaccuracies, misconceptions and uncertainties so as to allow scientific predictions to guide our moral and philosophical inquiries as far as they can. For example, we may debate when euthanasia is right but science can at least inform us as the possibility of ‘health’ recovery or not.

So, to answer my friend’s question, which started us on this intellectual journey, is science a tool of imperialism? No, the technology it produces has been used for that purpose but it could have been used otherwise…that  even when scientists reinforce cultural superiority, the scientific method will eventually bring down their house of cards and that the belief…no the faith…that science can answer all questions is healthy provided that faith does not itself blind you to science’s own limitations. Faith is not in itself bad, it is only when it is blind to the reality around you that it becomes the handmaiden of dogma and the assassin of truth and progress.

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