Thursday, March 18, 2010

I guess we will just have to wait for the 22nd century for the rubes to catch up

In the 21st century it is amazing how the world of magic still pervades the most scientifically and technologically advanced societies.

When I first saw the documentary Jesus Camp, I scoffed at the fundamentalist Protestant Reverend Rebecca Fletcher, putting defensive spells (blessings) on her laptop computer and the building’s electrical panel so that the Devil wouldn’t screw with her PowerPoint presentation. Later she is seen admonishing her young charges to avoid Harry Potter, a young man in fiction known to put defensive spells around his friends to ward off evil.

Yet here we are again, with a recent interview with the Vatican’s chief exorcist, telling us of all the demons he has cast out from people they possessed. He claims to know of 70,000 cases where demons possessed humans.

Such people are only a brain cell or two away from considering the burning of witches to be a heritage ceremony to be lamented for its decline.

I have just finished reading Richard Dawkins’ excellent new book, The Greatest Show on Earth, which is a tour de force in setting out the scientific evidence for evolution, 200 years after the birth of its discoverer, Charles Darwin.

In an appendix, Dawkins reports a number of polls that have been conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom and worldwide asking people, in different ways whether they think evolution is true. Depressingly, scientifically and technologically advanced nations such as the U.S. and the U.K. score poorly, with more people doubting evolution as described by Darwin’s natural selection than other explanations. He shows Turkey as being very low on the evolution acceptance scale with only 27% accepting evolution and 51% rejecting it.

U.S. and U.K figures are not much better, but Dawkins suspects that the Turkish numbers would be typical for Islamic countries. He cites the case of an organization in Britain called the Al-Nasr Trust which has produced leaflets that are distributed by Muslim medical students claiming Darwin’s theory is false. He point out that the ANT is a registered charity, so it is a tax-subsidized entity arguing against solid science within scientific education facilities. There isn't anything useful in science produced from Islamic societies in the last 1,000 years, but there they are mocking the discovery of one of the most important scientists of all time, and being fiancially rewarded by the government of the U.K. for their efforts.

Dawkins says it is very easy for a religious organization to obtain charitable status under Britain’s laws (which were copied nearly verbatim in Canada), whereas a bona vide charity (one that actually does real charitable work, such as advancing education) must jump through a number of hoops in order to obtain the same status.

He writes:

I recently established a charitable foundation dedicated to promoting “Reason and Science”. During the protracted, extremely expensive, and ultimately successful negotiation to obtain charitable status, I received a letter from the British Charity Commission…which contained the following: “It is not clear how the advancement of science tends towards the mental and moral improvement of the public. Please provide us with evidence of this or explain how it is linked to the advancement of humanism and rationalism.” Religious organizations, by contrast, are assumed to benefit humanity without any obligation to demonstrate it and even, apparently, if they are actively engaged in promoting scientific falsehood.

In light of the magic spell casting, still conducted by elements of the Christian faith one could add to that, “even if they are actively involved in spreading about the most archaic and nonsensical ideas.”

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