One topic that I've long had a fascination with is the history of skeptical and scientific thought. Human beings are naturally endowed with the ability to reason, but that reason is a far cry from a belief in a world governed by immutable natural laws. This is why I consider scientific education to be very important on a societal level; ignorance and fear combined with credulity can lead to devastating consequences: the bloody period of witch hunting in Europe resulted in somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 executions, a colossal waste of life and perversion of justice. I've written before about the real human suffering these witch hunts inflicted. It is frightening to note that such times are not completely behind us.
In the midst of such times of ignorance and superstition, however, there are always shining pillars of skeptical and rational thought that beat back the darkness, at least temporarily. On such example is Reginald Scot (1538-1599), who took the incredibly bold step to not only defend accused witches against the charges laid before them, but to also prove once and for all that witchcraft does not exist! His views were presented in his book The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584), a lengthy tome which chronicles the supposed powers of witches and provides devastating arguments against them:
I've had this book in my collection for probably a decade, long before I was really interested in blogging or the history of science, but had not managed to get through it until now. It is an extremely difficult book to read, being written in archaic Early Modern English and using many words and phrases which are outdated and virtually unknown. I found it extremely rewarding, however, for its glimpses into the naturalistic thinking of the time, the utter absurdity of the witch hunter's claims, and the wisdom and courage of its author. I dare say I even found it inspiring.
I did my undergraduate work at the University of Chicago, and though I can vouch for the fact that we all took ourselves way too seriously in general, it turns out the kids there now are okay! The homophobic Westboro Baptist Church clan, led by uber-homophobe Phelps, decided to stage a protest at the campus. They were answered by the men of Alpha Delta Phi (h/t Americablog):
While I'm on the subject, Michael Moore's take-down of WBC from his show The Awful Truth is still relevant, and a riot:
Via yet another tangled web of links (via Crooks&Liars, via BradBlog, via RatTube), we find this rather remarkable Fox "News" video. In late March 2008, the Reverend Michael Pfleger invited Jeremiah Wright, conservative demon of the month, to deliver a blessing at Saint Sabina in Chicago. Bill O'Reilly sent one of his ill-informed conservative waifs to ambush, harass and interrogate the Reverend, but the Reverend wasn't going to be readily pushed around. Video link after the fold:
Blake over at Science After Sunclipse has written an excellent essay about the real threats and intimidation that people have experienced when speaking out in favor of evolution. The makers of the idiocy that is the film Expelled would like the public to believe that good scientists are being persecuted unfairly for speaking out against evolution. Remember, though, that a vast majority of people, both in and out of academia, are Christian, and many of the cases Blake highlights are of people who are Christian being punished and threatened apparently for being insufficiently dogmatic. Blake's essay is well-worth a read.
A few weeks back, I made a comment on Pharyngula about the reasons that I finally lost complete respect for organized religion. The reasons seemed odd enough and entertaining enough to merit a post on their own: Legos and Peanuts. This isn't quite as crazy as it sounds, as I'll hopefully explain after the fold...
Sorry, sweetie: a concerned viewer asked Pat Robertson whether yoga has its origins in evil. Well, bad news: by repeating yoga mantras you're praying to pantheistic gods and are apparently engaging in 'spooky' activities, though Robertson doesn't go so far as to admit that it's evil.
I guess we can file this one amongst all the other, um, 'interesting' things that Robertson has said.
After you've read some of the science blogs for long enough, you start to think that there isn't any amount of crackpottery that can surprise you. For instance, reading Good Math, Bad Math will expose you to an endless amount of mathematics abuse, from bible code crazies to horrible mathematical 'proofs' of God. If you read Pharyngula, you will encounter so many creationists and Biblical literalists to make you want to become a Pharisee.
But I was really stunned when I discovered (h/t Pharyngula) another science blog where trolls are actually arguing in favor of geocentrism, the long-debunked view that the Earth is the fixed center of the universe and everything else revolves around it.
Most people are hopefully aware of the very strong religious right movement to incorporate creationism (the belief that God created the world and everything in it in its present form) in science classes as valid topic of study alongside evolution (the reality that all living species evolved from 'lower' forms of life, and continue to evolve over timescales almost incomprehensible). This dishonest movement, now referred to as 'intelligent design' or ID to get past the religion ban in classrooms, has no evidence in its favor and consists almost entirely of negative arguments ("You can't explain that? Then God did it!"). The biology website Pharyngula, written by PZ Myers, is a good place to get the latest scoop on creationist nonsense. And these things have potentially catastrophic consequences: a Presidential candidate, for instance, is on the record as saying he doesn't believe in evolution, and has other ideas that are far out of the mainstream of reality.
Leafing through the collected science essays of H.P. Lovecraft (hey, that's what I do for kicks), one finds that similar problems have been around before.