Friday, January 11, 2008

What would Galileo have thought....

Would he have been as mesmirized by views like these as I am?

This is a composite of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft as it zipped past Jupiter on it's way to a 2015 rendezvous with Pluto!

Many other breathtaking images like these can be found here.


The life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria

When we think of the ancient world generally we think of it as a 'Man's World'. Even much more so than the modern world in which we live now.

Women were generally not the equal of men in any sense. Historians will disagree if this was always the case but it seems clear that in the western world especially during the tumultuous centuries of the early first millennium it was.

Hypatia was a notable exception. She was born sometime in the mid fourth century CE. She was a mathmetician, philosopher and astronomer who lived in Alexandria. By all accounts she was a pagan living in the time when Christianity was in its ascendancy. Hypatia is hailed as a "valiant defender of science against religion"[1].

Her accomplisments are many:

* A commentary on the 13-volume Arithmetica by Diophantus.

* Edited the third book of her father's commentary on Ptolemy's Almagest.

* Edited her father's commentary on Euclid's Elements.

* Edited a commentary that simplified Apollonius's Conics.

* She wrote the text The Astronomical Canon.

* The invention of the hydrometer.

These are some distinguished accomplishments for a woman of the ancient world!

Why does the average person know nothing of this woman?

Well that probably has to do with the nature of her death. Hypatia was a close friend and confidant of the Roman Prefect of Alexandria, Orestes. Many in the growing Christian church blamed her for the friction between the prefect and the church patriarch Cyril. Orestes stubbornly fought against Cyril’s growing encroachment onto secular matters. Cyril blamed the pagan Hypatia for this state of affairs. Naturally, Prefect Orestes took advantage of Hypatia's support. Hypatia was widely regarded as a great moral and virtuous authority of Alexandria. Cyril greatly coveted this authority.

Sadly, in 415 CE a group of Christians leading a superstitious mob attacked Hypatia on her chariot. They dragged her from her mount, beat her, stripped the flesh from her bones using sharp tiles, hacked her body apart and burned the pieces. Orestes, without the support of Hypatia was forced to abandon Alexandra. This allowed Cyril to rise further and eventually become Bishop of Alexandria, and eventually a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

This doleful event is seen as one of the nails in the coffin of classical civilization.


1. John William Draper, as quoted in the 1996 The Literary Legend of Hypatia by Maria Dzielska

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tell it Saint Albert!!!

I feel deep spiritual kinship with Mr. Einstein. Whenever I read the following article it reinforces my deeply held view of what it means to be human and a spiritual being.

It's not a long article, so please give it a read. Perhaps you'll understand me a little more and where I am coming from, for I could not hope to explain it better than Saint Albert!

The following article by Albert Einstein appeared in the New York Times Magazine on November 9, 1930 pp 1-4. It has been reprinted in Ideas and Opinions, Crown Publishers, Inc. 1954, pp 36 - 40. It also appears in Einstein's book The World as I See It, Philosophical Library, New York, 1949, pp. 24 - 28.
"Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their development. Feeling and longing are the motive force behind all human endeavor and human creation, in however exalted a guise the latter may present themselves to us. Now what are the feelings and needs that have led men to religious thought and belief in the widest sense of the words? A little consideration will suffice to show us that the most varying emotions preside over the birth of religious thought and experience. With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions - fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation, propitiate them or make them well disposed toward a mortal. In this sense I am speaking of a religion of fear. This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear, and erects a hegemony on this basis. In many cases a leader or ruler or a privileged class whose position rests on other factors combines priestly functions with its secular authority in order to make the latter more secure; or the political rulers and the priestly caste make common cause in their own interests.

The social impulses are another source of the crystallization of religion. Fathers and mothers and the leaders of larger human communities are mortal and fallible. The desire for guidance, love, and support prompts men to form the social or moral conception of God. This is the God of Providence, who protects, disposes, rewards, and punishes; the God who, according to the limits of the believer's outlook, loves and cherishes the life of the tribe or of the human race, or even or life itself; the comforter in sorrow and unsatisfied longing; he who preserves the souls of the dead. This is the social or moral conception of God.

The Jewish scriptures admirably illustrate the development from the religion of fear to moral religion, a development continued in the New Testament. The religions of all civilized peoples, especially the peoples of the Orient, are primarily moral religions. The development from a religion of fear to moral religion is a great step in peoples' lives. And yet, that primitive religions are based entirely on fear and the religions of civilized peoples purely on morality is a prejudice against which we must be on our guard. The truth is that all religions are a varying blend of both types, with this differentiation: that on the higher levels of social life the religion of morality predominates.

Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. In general, only individuals of exceptional endowments, and exceptionally high-minded communities, rise to any considerable extent above this level. But there is a third stage of religious experience which belongs to all of them, even though it is rarely found in a pure form: I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it.

The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear at an early stage of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this.

The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.

How can cosmic religious feeling be communicated from one person to another, if it can give rise to no definite notion of a God and no theology? In my view, it is the most important function of art and science to awaken this feeling and keep it alive in those who are receptive to it.

We thus arrive at a conception of the relation of science to religion very different from the usual one. When one views the matter historically, one is inclined to look upon science and religion as irreconcilable antagonists, and for a very obvious reason. The man who is thoroughly convinced of the universal operation of the law of causation cannot for a moment entertain the idea of a being who interferes in the course of events - provided, of course, that he takes the hypothesis of causality really seriously. He has no use for the religion of fear and equally little for social or moral religion. A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to him for the simple reason that a man's actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.

It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees.On the other hand, I maintain that the cosmic religious feeling is the strongest and noblest motive for scientific research. Only those who realize the immense efforts and, above all, the devotion without which pioneer work in theoretical science cannot be achieved are able to grasp the strength of the emotion out of which alone such work, remote as it is from the immediate realities of life, can issue. What a deep conviction of the rationality of the universe and what a yearning to understand, were it but a feeble reflection of the mind revealed in this world, Kepler and Newton must have had to enable them to spend years of solitary labor in disentangling the principles of celestial mechanics! Those whose acquaintance with scientific research is derived chiefly from its practical results easily develop a completely false notion of the mentality of the men who, surrounded by a skeptical world, have shown the way to kindred spirits scattered wide through the world and through the centuries. Only one who has devoted his life to similar ends can have a vivid realization of what has inspired these men and given them the strength to remain true to their purpose in spite of countless failures. It is cosmic religious feeling that gives a man such strength. A contemporary has said, not unjustly, that in this materialistic age of ours the serious scientific workers are the only profoundly religious people."

A. Einstein, 1930

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Can you say 'Straw Man'?!

This is so hilarious!

I can't even begin to list the errors and misrepresentations contained within this 'proof of Satan's creation of evolution'

Please! Before you make an ass of yourself like this adolescent did, ask someone who truly understand the concepts of evolution.