Archive for March 9th, 2012

March 9, 2012

Skeptic History: Astronomy vs Astrology

en:Image:RANDI.jpg (Original text : James Randi)

Image via Wikipedia

from James Randi

via christiantheatheist

When the planet Uranus was discovered on March 13, 1781, it caused a conundrum for classical astrologers. Their rules revolved around a system of exactly seven heavenly bodies (5 planets, the moon and the sun). Seven is a magical number, of course. Adding an eighth body ruined the magic.

But Uranus also posed a problem for real scientists too, who noticed anomalies in its orbit. French astronomerUrbain Le Verrier, who was born March 11, 1811, calculated that they could be explained by motion of an unseen planet beyond Uranus. Based on his calculations, Neptune was in located via observations in 1846.

Le Verrier went on to examine anomalies in Mercury’s orbit, and predicted the existence of another inner planet he called Vulcan. Astronomers spent many years trying to observe the predicted planet with no success.

Years later came Albert Einstein, who was born March 14, 1879, and his theory of general relativity. It fully explained the anomalies in Mercury’s orbit without need of an unseen inner planet.

LeVerrier, who had been so right about Neptune, was absolutely wrong about Vulcan.  But did this sully his reputation?  Not at all.  His prediction of the location of Neptune is still regarded as a triumph of the predictive abilities of science.

And besides, if you’re going to be proven wrong, why not by Einstein?  In addition to being the most famous physicist ever, in1999 Skeptical Inquirer named him one of the ten most outstanding skeptics of the twentieth century.  (Also listed, of course, was James Randi).

But what about the problem Uranus and Neptune posed for astrologers?  Well, astrology did suffer a decline in popularity during early nineteenth century as a result.

But soon western astrologers found a way to incorporate both Uranus and Neptune into their bogus predictions.  Astrology is unfortunately more popular than ever today.  How that happened is a story for another day.

 

I always remember that Nancy Reagan often advised her husband during his presidency, based upon information she received from her astrologer. Explains a lot. sob

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March 9, 2012

Atheist Barbie

March 9, 2012

The Myth of Militant Atheism

Published on Psychology Today (http://www.psychologytoday.com)

The Myth of Militant Atheism

By David Niose
Created Feb 17 2011 – 9:31am

Nine bullets fired from close range ended the life of Salman Taseer last month, making the Pakistani governor the latest high-profile victim of religious violence. Taseer had the audacity to publicly question Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and for this transgression he paid with his life.

Taseer joins a list of numerous other high-profile victims of militant religion, such as Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas abortion doctor killed by a devout Christian assassin in 2009, and Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker whose provocative movie about Islam resulted in his being brutally murdered in 2004.

With this background, it is especially puzzling that the American media and public still perpetuate the cliché of so-called “militant atheism.” We hear the disparaging term “militant atheist” used frequently, the unquestioned assumption being that militant atheists are of course roaming the streets of America.

In fact, however, while millions of atheists are indeed walking our streets, it would be difficult to find even one who could accurately be described as militant. In all of American history, it is doubtful that any person has ever been killed in the name of atheism. In fact, it would be difficult to find evidence that any American has ever even been harmed in the name of atheism. It just does not happen, because the notion of “militant atheism” is entirely fantasy.

When the media and others refer to a “militant atheist,” the object of that slander is usually an atheist who had the nerve to openly question religious authority or vocally express his or her views about the existence of God. Conventional wisdom quickly tells us that such conduct is shameful or, at the very least, distasteful, and therefore the brazen nonbeliever is labeled “militant.”

But this reflects a double standard, because it seems to apply only to atheists. Religious individuals and groups frequently declare, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, that you are a sinner and that you will suffer in hell for eternity if you do not adopt their supernatural beliefs, but they will almost never be labeled “militant” by the media or the public. Instead, such individuals are called “devout” and such churches are called “evangelical.”

The lesson here is clear. If you’re an atheist, shut up about it. If you are open or vocal about your atheist worldview, you are a “militant atheist.” Be silent, even though that same standard does not apply to those who passionately disagree with you.

This, to be sure, explains why so few Americans openly identify as atheist. The American Religious Identification Survey conducted by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, indicates that only about 81 percent of Americans affirmatively believe in a god (about 69 percent believe in a personal God, while about 12 percent believe in some kind of “higher power”), meaning about 19 percent do not. Yet despite the fact that almost one in five Americans don’t affirmatively believe, only a tiny fraction of those dare to identify openly as atheist.

Analyze those numbers all you want, but the inescapable conclusion is that millions of Americans are in the closet about their religious skepticism. This, in turn, only serves to validate and legitimize the religious right, because it suggests that there is something wrong with a secular worldview. By keeping atheists closeted, the religious right can claim the moral high ground and influence public policy more than it should.

Therefore, maybe it’s time to end the myth of militant atheism?

Order Dave Niose’s upcoming book, Nonbeliever Nation.

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