The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

The Mythology of Mother Teresa

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 4, 2016

Chances are that if you mention the name “Mother Teresa” to a random person, they will associate her with all manner of great and wonderful activities, such feeding the poor and aiding the sick and dying. Indeed, MT is almost universally accepted as the model of a good and selfless person. But, as with all myths, the reality is quite different and not so rosy.

Since the Vatican is about to declare Mother Teresa a “saint”, I think it’s appropriate to remind people of some unpleasant facts about her. One of MT’s earliest and harshest critics was Christopher Hitchens, who authored this article for Slate in 2003, wherein he refers to her as a “fanatic, fundamentalist, and fraud.” Here’s an excerpt:

… MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

And if that isn’t bad enough, check out this investigation of MT and the con job of her mythology and its propagation by the Vatican from Penn & Teller’s show Bullshit (warning: some of the images are disturbing).

Last, but not least, there are critics of MT from within India, who have been demanding accountability from her organization for years. One such critic is Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, who grew up in Calcutta amid MT’s organization that supposedly helped the sick and dying poor of the city. His article in the New York Times is scathing:

Over hundreds of hours of research, much of it cataloged in a book he published in 2003, Dr. Chatterjee said he found a “cult of suffering” in homes run by Mother Teresa’s organization, the Missionaries of Charity, with children tied to beds and little to comfort dying patients but aspirin.

He and others said that Mother Teresa took her adherence to frugality and simplicity in her work to extremes, allowing practices like the reuse of hypodermic needles and tolerating primitive facilities that required patients to defecate in front of one another.

Wow. That’s pretty rough stuff. It almost makes one want to question the motives of the Vatican, doesn’t it? Why would the Catholic Church create and propagate this myth of Mother Teresa, her “saintliness”, and the supposed miracles she performed? Maybe it has something to do with the institutional corruption and scandal brought on by rampant sexual abuse and related cover-ups?

Ah well, nothing like that old-time religion to distract one from some unpleasant facts.

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Pope Tries to Have It Both Ways on Science

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 24, 2015

Like many, I was pleasantly surprised when Pope Francis recently made public comments about climate change, wherein he stated that a) it was real, and b) it is largely due to human activity. This is good news because, rightly or wrongly, the Pope is looked up to by billions of people around the world, and when someone of his stature speaks, people listen; and it seems his words are having a positive effect. It is also interesting that so many global warming deniers are beside themselves, even going so far as to label the Pope’s stance as off base and that he should (get this) leave “science to the scientists” (pardon me while I laugh at the irony of that comment). Of course, what do you expect from people who continually confuse weather with climate?

Now, while I’m happy to see these developments, I also urge caution. It’s not like Pope Francis is suddenly a big booster for science. Like too many high-profile public figures, he is a science-booster when it works for him and a science-denier when it works against him. Case in point: I was also a tad disappointed when the Pope visited Turin, Italy a few days ago, and he took some time to pray before the much-revered Shroud of Turin.


(Image source)

So why does this matter? It matters because, to put it bluntly, it has been shown rather conclusively that the Shroud of Turin, which many claim is the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, is fake. For instance, there is the historical evidence which dates it to a time (around the year 1300 C.E. – roughly 13 centuries after Christ’s supposed burial) when supposed “holy relics” abounded in Europe; then there is the radio-carbon dating which dates it conclusively to the same time frame; then there is the evidence that, despite claims by the Vatican to the contrary, that it is actually rather easy to fake the phenomenon of the Shroud. All of this evidence pointing to the fakery that is the revered Shroud is nicely summed up in this entry at the Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Which leads to an obvious question: If Pope Francis is such a science-booster, why is he avoiding the entire question of the Shroud’s authenticity? Why are his statements regarding the Shroud little more than veiled references to Jesus and the Christian faith? Could it be because he wants to have it both ways, like Sen. Rick Santorum, and leave “science to the scientists”, except when he doesn’t like the answers science reveals?

Officially, the Vatican hasn’t taken a stance on the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, but apparently that won’t stop the Pope from giving every indication that he believes it is real and thus influencing millions of Shroud-believers. Taking this stance is essentially to make one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously? That’s the argument? Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation. And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

Ah well, at least the Pope got it right on climate change.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, global warming denial, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

“Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap” Video from Skepticamp 2013

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 31, 2014

I posted about a year ago the audio of my talk on how to more effectively communicate with creationists from the 2013 Chicago Skepticamp, and now I’m happy to share with you all the actual video of that talk.  For reference, here is a link to an earlier blog post I made on the topic.  Enjoy!🙂

Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap

Skepticamp 2013 Talk



Posted in creationism, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Vatican Pulls a Boner with St. Peter’s Alleged Remains

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 29, 2013

In light of the upcoming Holiday Season, I wanted to do a quick post regarding an interesting bit of news out of the Vatican recently; apparently, the Vatican is putting the supposed bones of St. Peter on public display for the very first time.  However, these may not be the bones true-believers are looking for…

Saint Peters Bones - maybe

It would be a real boner if the remains turned out to not be those of Saint Peter, wouldn’t it?(image source)

St. Peter’s Bones: Vatican ‘Verifies’ Remains Despite Archaeological Skepticism

As far as St. Peter’s bones go, many Catholic’s will no doubt be planning a pilgrimage to the Holy See, to view the bones purported to belong to St. Peter. The remains were revealed Sunday at St. Peter’s square, and the revelation was performed at St. Peter’s Square at the conclusion of the Catholic church’s “Year of Faith.”

This also happens to the first time St. Peter’s bones have ever been put on display since being discovered in 1939. But there is no DNA sample with which to make a comparison and no way of proving who the skeletal remains actually belong to. But the Vatican is declaring their “verification” regardless.

Pilgrims 8.5 million strong have journeyed to see the Vatican’s relics collection over the last year, but many are questioning whether or not the bones really belong to St. Peter. Peter was believed to have been martyred in Rome in 64 C.E. by being crucified upside down, and then buried in the city. Pope Paul VI said of St. Peter’s bones:

“[They had been identified] in a manner which we believe convincing.”

… Despite the lack of verification, and the fact that archeologists have disputed that they actually found St. Peter’s bones, the Vatican has found the identification “convincing” and has officially declared the bones to belong to St. Peter.

Pardon me if I’m just a bit skeptical of these claims, especially since there has been no independent verification that the remains are indeed those of St. Peter.  Sadly, the history of the Catholic Church is full of examples of pious frauds (such as the much-lauded Shroud of Turin) passed off on the faithful as the real thing when, at best, their authenticity is highly dubious.

Of course, in a time when the Church is struggling to keep asses in pews and money coming into the coffers, I suppose they’ll grab onto anything – no matter how questionable or tenuous – that they can.


Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Chicago Skepticamp 2013: Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 4, 2013

This past weekend I had the honor of speaking at the Chicago Skepticamp 2013, and I chose to do my talk on a topic on which I’ve written before here – the communication gap that we skeptics and science-supporters have with creationists and other psuedoscientists.

I recorded the talk (which is only about 16 minutes long), and I include that along with the slide presentation I made below.  Audio is on the first slide.  Mouse over it and you should see the tab for it.  Enjoy!🙂

Creationism, Evolution, and Our Communication Gap – WITH AUDIO


Posted in creationism, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

The Mind of Creationists and Our Communication Gap

Posted by mattusmaximus on January 14, 2013

I have spent many electrons typing on my keyboard and posting online about those who would use the government to impose their religious beliefs upon the rest of us by undercutting science education in our public schools. In fact, the most published category on my blog is in reference to creationism, that bugaboo which never seems to go away, like a bad game of Whack-a-Mole that you can’t ever finish.

Like many who call themselves skeptics of pseudoscience, the paranormal, and religion, I have some friends who are into one of more of the aforementioned areas. Specifically, I have friends who proudly call themselves creationists, in the sense that they adhere to the most common variant called Young-Earth Creationism (where their reading of the Bible says the Earth/universe is roughly 6000-10,000 years old). What I want to do here is to recount a conversation I had with one of these friends and how it opened my eyes into how the creationist mind seems to work.

A couple of years ago, I had posted an article on my blog about an upcoming geocentrism conference, which was titled “Galileo Was Wrong” – in the sense that the participants in this conference were actually arguing the Sun isn’t the center of our solar system and that astronomy and physics for the last 400 years or so is completely wrong. In my post, after presenting a plethora of scientific reasons as to why geocentrism is outright wrong, I took some time to focus upon one of the primary arguments presented by the geocentrists: their reading of the Bible.

On my blog entry, I stated:

Last, but not least, it seems that the motivation for modern geocentrists to hold these loony views, despite all of the evidence & science against them, is based in their particular reading of the Bible. In other words, their particular set of religious beliefs trump all of scientific reality. Or, to put it another way, they are engaging in some really interesting mental gymnastics to come to the conclusion of “the Bible is literally true” and retrofit all evidence (through liberal use of cherry-picking, goalpost moving, and in some cases outright lying) to jibe with their religious views.

Yes, just like Young Earth Creationists, they call themselves “Biblical literalists” and use their reading of various Bible passages to justify their pseudoscience (btw, it seems that all of these modern geocentrists are YECs, but not all YECs are geocentrists). I must say that it is nice to see that while most YECs may reject modern evolutionary science on the basis of their “literal” interpretation of the Bible, a large number of YECs aren’t quite so far gone as to go down the rabbit hole of geocentrism. Which, interestingly enough, begs a question: how can two different groups of people (geocentric vs. heliocentric YECs) claim two disparate “literal” readings & interpretations of Biblical scripture? How can the two groups claim to be reading & interpreting The Truth from the Bible, yet also disagree on this topic? Hmmm…

In every interaction I have had with geocentrists, whether it be perusing their “Galileo Was Wrong” website or looking through their literature (my favorite one is a book mailed to me at the school where I teach titled “The Geocentricity Primer: The Geocentric Bible #7”), I have found their arguments placing a heavy emphasis upon their reading of the Bible.

Enter my discussion with my YEC friend. After posting my blog article onto my Facebook page, my friend was among the first to comment that these geocentrists were nuts. I agreed, but then I began to engage him in a deeper discussion as to why he thought they were nuts. His initial response was pretty simple, saying that it was pretty much because of the scientific reasons I outlined in my blog post (i.e. geocentrism cannot explain inner planet phases, parallax, retrograde motion, and is inconsistent with basic physics). Upon seeing his response, I asked him another question: “Did you notice that these geocentrists based most of their arguments upon their reading of the Bible?”

He responded quickly: “Well, they’re wrong.” To which I responded: “Yes, but why do you think they’re wrong? You stated just now that it was because of the scientific arguments that I presented. Therefore, you must agree that science can trump someone’s reading of the Bible.”

He saw where I was headed with this line of thought, and he quickly changed his tune. “Well, their reading of the Bible is incorrect. That’s why they’re wrong,” came his reply. Never mind the fact that he never bothered to point out to me any kind of Biblical evidence, such as Scriptural passages, which outlined exactly what was wrong with the geocentrist arguments. When I pointed out to him that he was changing his argument he became increasingly uncomfortable, especially when I followed up with the logical conclusion: if you think that scientific facts can trump a geocentrist reading of the Bible, then why can’t scientific facts trump a YEC reading of the Bible?

At that point, I could see that my friend had cognitive dissonance in full swing within his mind, as he kept insisting that “all you need is the Bible to see the truth” and whatnot. I insisted on pointing out to him that the geocentrists, whom he labeled as nuts, would make exactly the same argument contrary to his personal reading of the Bible. Once again, he squirmed, merely insisting that he was right and they were wrong. Eventually, I let the matter drop, but not until after I had planted that skeptical seed of doubt. Hopefully, one day, it will start to grow.

This entire interaction taught me something which I hadn’t quite internalized until that point, and I think this is something which skeptics and supporters of science often struggle with. We often lament about how many people seem to be almost willfully ignorant of science and its wider implications, as if we simply expect everyone to give science as much credence and importance as we do. Now, don’t get me wrong – YECs and geocentrists alike enjoy the fruits of science’s labors, such as TVs, computers, the Internet, planes, cars, etc. But what they seem to fight, and where the aforementioned cognitive dissonance seems to come in, is when the questions go beyond the mere “toys” of science to larger issues of one’s belief system and/or worldview. Once science starts to encroach upon that territory with its pesky facts and logic, many are willing to either ignore science or even fight against it openly!

So it seems to me that we have a pretty serious communication gap with people like YECs, in that we naively expect them to think like us, when nothing could be further from the truth. In many ways, those of us who embrace the scientific mode of thinking are the exception, and even then you don’t have to look far to find a skeptic who all-too-easily slips back into the more common mode of unscientific thinking. Because of this gap, in many ways when attempting to engage in discussion with them, we are literally speaking different languages: we are coming to the issue from a naturalistic, science-based framework, and they are coming to it from what they consider a Biblically-oriented worldview. And, in many ways, never the twain shall meet, as the saying goes.

So, what to do? How can we bridge this gap? I think my interaction with my YEC friend on the question of geocentrism might provide a lesson in how to address this question. Rather than argue with him about how YEC was scientifically unsound, which I had futilely attempted to do before, I went right to the core of his arguments: I used his own language of “truth in the Bible” against him by providing him with an example of a worldview (geocentrism) which he considered incorrect, even though that worldview made exactly the same kinds of appeals to Biblical literalism which he himself had so often made!

Now, will such argument be effective? I don’t know, only time will tell. But I think it will accomplish two things: 1) it will give my friend some pause to think, in a manner in which he is able to think, and 2) it can keep the conversation going because now we are, in some way, at least sharing the same language.

Posted in creationism, psychology, skeptical community | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

More Twisted Thinking from Shroud of Turin Proponents

Posted by mattusmaximus on December 22, 2011

I shouldn’t be surprised to see this particular headline at this time of the year: The Shroud of Turin Wasn’t Faked, Italian Experts Say.  It’s just too easy, I assume, for the media to take a story like this and run with it during the Christmas season.  Going beyond the headline, I’d like to analyze a couple of specifics from the folks who are behind this latest “research” on the Shroud.

First, they claim – falsely – that it would have been impossible to fake the Shroud…

… Experts at Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Development have concluded in a report that the famed purported burial cloth of Jesus Christ could not have been faked. … [emphasis added]

Which is an interesting claim, based upon the fact that in 2009 researcher Luigi Garlaschelli published his methods for replicating the Shroud using only techniques which would have been available in the 13th and 14th centuries (dates to which all available evidence points as the time of origin of the Shroud).  Here’s what he came up with…

Replications of the Shroud of Turin — So much for the claim that it cannot be replicated (oops)

But the worst part of the analysis by the Shroud proponents comes from the next part of the ABC article:

… According to the Vatican Insider, a project by La Stampa newspaper that closely follows the Catholic church, the experts’ report says, “The double image (front and back) of a scourged and crucified man, barely visible on the linen cloth of the Shroud of Turin has many physical and chemical characteristics that are so particular that the staining which is identical in all its facets, would be impossible to obtain today in a laboratory … This inability to repeat (and therefore falsify) the image on the Shroud makes it impossible to formulate a reliable hypothesis on how the impression was made.” … [emphasis added]

Note the last line there.  It is essentially one big argument from ignorance – that’s what this entire “scientific” endeavor basically boils down to: we don’t know whether or not the Shroud is real, so therefore it really was the burial cloth of Jesus Christ!

So because you don’t know, you know???

Seriously?  That’s the argument?  Using such sloppy logic I could just as easily argue that the Shroud was created by invisible leprechauns, but somehow I don’t think the Catholic Church would go with that explanation.  And that’s the silly thing about arguments from ignorance: once you use such thinking as an acceptable method of argumentation, just about any kind of crazy idea (without any evidence to support it whatsoever) becomes fair game.

If this is the best the Shroud proponents can do, color me unimpressed.

Posted in ghosts & paranormal, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

What is the Physical Evidence for the Existence of Jesus?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 21, 2011

The Easter season is upon us, and members of the world’s most populace religion – Christianity – will be celebrating the traditional event that serves as the foundation of their beliefs: the supposed death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Now, I’m not really interested in getting into all the philosophical & metaphysical questions regarding the beliefs of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus Christ here.  Rather, I am more interested in asking a much more direct question: did Jesus actually exist as a historical figure?

To address this question, and the related issues which are presented in a (pardon the pun) newly risen branch of theological discourse called the Jesus/Christ myth theory, we must take into account the physical evidence (or lack thereof) for the existence of Jesus.

To address these questions, I would like to reference this excellent article from

Jesus Christ the Man: Does the Physical Evidence Hold Up?

Jesus Christ may be the most famous man who ever lived. But how do we know he did?

Most theological historians, Christian and non-Christian alike, believe that Jesus really did walk the Earth. They draw that conclusion from textual evidence in the Bible, however, rather than from the odd assortment of relics parading as physical evidence in churches all over Europe.

That’s because, from fragments of text written on bits of parchment to overly abundant chips of wood allegedly salvaged from his crucifix, none of the physical evidence of Jesus’ life and death hold up to scientific scrutiny.  [Who Was Jesus, the Man?]…

This is a particularly interesting point that I think some Christians need to address.  Many insist that the world around us provides evidence for their beliefs: that God is real, and Jesus died for our sins to save us, etc.  However, when we really analyze the world around us to address questions such as “Did Jesus really exist?” the evidence seems lacking; and then those same believers dismiss this lack of evidence and then proceed to point to the Bible as “evidence”.  People who argue in such a manner are not being consistent in their argument nor are they being intellectually honest, because they want to stack the deck of evidence, so to speak.

[**Addendum (4-22-11): Even for those who wish to try gathering all of their “evidence” for the historical reality of Jesus from the Bible, there are very troublesome inconsistencies.  To see why, try taking this Easter Quiz on the Biblical account of Jesus’s death & resurrection over at Skeptic Money]

So let’s talk about the supposed physical evidence for the existence of Jesus, and see just why it is that it doesn’t pass muster.  For example, a recent “documentary” claimed that the original nails used to crucify Jesus on the cross could have been found, but according to the article…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments »

An Actual Geocentrism Conference? Are You Frakkin’ Kidding?!

Posted by mattusmaximus on September 25, 2010

You know, there are days when I think I’ve seen it all.  I think to myself: “there are some things which are just too stupid, crazy, and/or ‘out-there’ that nobody will attempt to believe & defend.”  And then something like this crosses my email inbox: an actual conference, titled “Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right”, which attempts to seriously argue for… get this… geocentrism. You know, geocentrism – the idea that the Earth is the center of the universe.  You know, geocentrism – the notion which has become, and deservedly so, synonymous with the Dark Ages & all manner of backward and nonsensical thinking.  You know, geocentrism – the completely defunct idea which even the modern Catholic Church itself has admitted as having no merit whatsoever!  Yeah, that geocentrism…

Actually, before I facepalm myself into a state of blissful unconsciousness over the incredible level of stupidity embodied by this conference, allow me to seriously address the entire question of geocentricity.  I wish to do so because of two reasons: 1) if these pseudoscientists are holding a conference, they are attempting to get more media attention and must thus be countered; and 2) it seems that a whopping 18% of people in the United States actually believe the Earth is the center of the universe (which is far too many)!  So here goes…

First off, I’m going to hit just a few major points in this post.  If you want a much more thorough treatment of this topic, go see Phil Plait’s post over at Bad Astronomy; and if you are interested in reading more about the history of geocentric models of the universe, I suggest you check out Wikipedia as a starter.

Now, let me begin by saying that if you don’t have any education at all in the topic of Earth & space science, astronomy, physics, and what-have-you that I can understand an almost blind acceptance of geocentrism for one simple reason: it certainly appears that everything in the sky moves around the Earth.  Look in the sky and you’ll see the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, etc all moving – from your frame of reference – around the Earth.

Of course, a little more thought, along with a deeper analysis of astronomical data, will show that the geocentrism as mentioned by these “Galileo Was Wrong” goofballs is totally bogus…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in astrology, creationism, physics denial/woo, religion, space | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Science Creates Artificial Cell and Creationists Spin, Spin, Spin

Posted by mattusmaximus on May 30, 2010

A couple of weeks back, a bombshell of an announcement hit the scientific world: the first artificial cell has been synthesized in the lab. Needless to say, this is a big deal, because it not only has vast implications for bio- & genetic engineering, but the discovery can help fill in gaps in our knowledge of how life evolved naturally from non-life (see my previous blog post on this issue – The God-of-the-Gaps Just Got Smaller: Link Found Between Life & Inorganic Matter)

What’s also interesting is the reaction from some religious & creationist circles concerning this discovery.  First, there is the response from the Catholic Church warning scientists not to “play God”…

Catholic Church officials said Friday that the recently created first synthetic cell could be a positive development if correctly used, but warned scientists that only God can create life.

Vatican and Italian church officials were mostly cautious in their first reaction to the announcement from the United States that researchers had produced a living cell containing manmade DNA. They warned scientists of the ethical responsibility of scientific progress and said that the manner in which the innovation is applied in the future will be crucial.

“It’s a great scientific discovery. Now we have to understand how it will be implemented in the future,” Monsignor Rino Fisichella, the Vatican’s top bioethics official, told Associated Press Television News.

“If we ascertain that it is for the good of all, of the environment and man in it, we’ll keep the same judgment,” he said. “If, on the other hand, the use of this discovery should turn against the dignity of and respect for human life, then our judgment would change.”

I’m all for proceeding cautiously in this particular research, because there is the potential for abuse, just as there is with any kind of new technology.  But read between the lines of what the Vatican is saying – they seem to be implying that, somehow, this artificial life is fundamentally different from “normal” life simply because of the manner in which it was created.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in creationism, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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