Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More Pontiff-ications

There are some people that if they don't know, you can't tell 'em. ~ Louis Armstrong

Is anyone else tired of Pope Benedict XVI yet?

I suppose I should appreciate such a gold mine of ideas for posts, but frankly he's getting to be a bore. To wit:
  • Benedict announces a “seminar” to be held to review the Church's position on Darwinian evolution, which prompted me to review the Galileo Caper.

  • He announced a desire to return to the Latin Mass, not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but, in his case, it's an alarm klaxon shrieking about a Pope wanting to return to the past.

  • Back in the science venue, he warned scientists, essentially, that there were things that man was not meant to know, using his Icarus metaphor. Those last two items resulted in Benedict Rides Again.

Now he is warning scientists not to go around making alarmist predictions unless they are absolutely, positively certain that the prediction is accurate, prompting this outburst on my part.

Scientists, the pope says, should know their limits. I wish Benedict knew his.

His latest mouthful is believed to be in response to an assessment that says oceanic fish stocks will be flat gone by 2050. It is quite true that we can't know something like this for sure, but given that we have brought numerous species to extinction or very near to it, the possibility is quite real.

Interestingly, I haven't seen a single word from Benedict about the alarmist press reports that claim terrorists are cranking out sarin in their kitchens from castor beans, some idiot can make “dirty” bombs from the radioactive material in smoke detectors, and someone can mix up a liquid bomb in an airplane toilet using household products that is powerful enough to blow the plane up. A brief reading of the Dick Destiny blog will show you that grinding castor beans does not produce usable sarin, you'd need 10 million smoke detectors to gather enough material to make a dirty bomb (sort of like trying to make an atom bomb by scraping the radium off glow-in-the dark wrist watches), and the liquid bomb requires setting up a titration lab experiment for about three hours in the airplane john.

This and other similar pseudo-science (which is almost a compliment when talking about mainstream media news science reporting) doesn't seem to bother the pope. But, issue a warning based on real data that could have serious ramifications for the world's population is “alarmist.”

This is clearly a pope who would have declared the Copernican system to be a heresy because it upset the Aristotelean framework supported by the Church. He probably would have had Galileo burned at the stake, rather than sentenced to house arrest. In fact, he never would have allowed publication of the “Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems.” He would have proscribed belief in quantum mechanics (he may yet) because it destroys the concept of pre-destination. And evolution would have been right out (and it may yet be).

I'd suggest that Benedict stick to religion for his pronouncements, but given that he's already managed to tick off the Islamic world, we'd be better off if he would simply shut up.

So what does it matter if the pope shoots his mouth off? He's still essentially a religious figure, and religion and science have managed to get along for some centuries now, haven't they? Yes, they have, to a point. But, let's not forget that school systems have been pressured in the U.S. to teach Creationism as a “scientific” alternative to Evolution; some have been faced with campaigns to stop teaching Evolution altogether. While the pope's statements apply primarily to Catholics, fundamentalist Christians would jump on his pronouncements if they supported their blinkered view of the universe.

Benedict is that most dangerous of individuals, an ignorant man in a position of power. Thus far, he hasn't invoked papal infallibility; that would require issuing a papal bull expressing these opinions. But, unless there is someone around him with a modicum of sense, that can't be far off. And, it's unlikely that Benedict surrounds himself with any independent thinkers.

There has been a small but vocal group of atheist thinkers, led by Richard Dawkins, a noted author of books on genetics and evolution, calling for the abolition of religion. I feel that such an attitude is extreme and destructive, but the more Benedict talks, the more I understand why Dawkins and his supporters feel the way that they do, although I don't agree with their draconian approach. Science thrives on open discourse and free communication; religion has always engendered the opposite attitude, restricting free thought, often severely punishing those who would express contrarian views. Benedict would better serve his congregation by keeping his mouth shut and working to ease conflict in the world rather than foment more of it.

Someone needs to explain to the pope that this is 2006, not 1506.

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