The Skeptical Teacher

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

Posts Tagged ‘Catholicism’

God on a Goldfish Cracker?

Posted by mattusmaximus on April 8, 2013

Every now and then, just when you think things cannot get too silly, they do.  Case in point: the fact that the news media is actually giving some attention to a woman’s claim that her goldfish cracket is a “sign from God”…

Florida woman finds ‘sign from God’ on Goldfish cracker

GoldfishGod

It’s a fishy story, but the woman telling it believes it’s pure gold. The Florida resident says the markings she found on a Goldfish cracker are a direct message affirming her Christian faith.

“I believe that it’s a sign, a sign from God,” Patti Burke told Florida Today. “He is still in our life every day, and he wants to show that to his people.”

It’s not quite manna, but in Burke’s eyes it’s a manifestation of her faith.

The cracker in question has two markings, or imperfections, on its surface. Burke says the first marking is of a cross with a circle around it. The second marking, near the head of the fish, represents a golden crown.

“When I picked this one up, I knew he was special,” she said. “Something I’ve never seen before out of all the Goldfish I’ve eaten.”

Burke admittedly has been working from a large sample size, consuming between two and three pounds of the crackers per week. She says she eats the small crackers individually, examining each one for the optimal amount of savory coating. … [emphasis added]

Umm… yeah.  Pardon me, but… IT’S A CRACKER!!! Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.  Come on folks, is it really any surprise that the person making this “miraculous discovery” (which has all the markings of a modern-day “religious relic” such as the infamous Virgin Mary Grill Cheese Sandwich) is a devout Christian?  That is the classic marker of pareidolia – our evolution-wired brains are developed for pattern recognition, and one of the most recognized patterns for a Christian is the cross. Throw into the mix a bit of religious fervor (i.e. in this case, devout Christianity) and viola! you have a “miracle” appearance of the cross on a cracker.

Here’s another interesting bit of pareidolia to get you thinking.  Years ago a man cut into a melon, and he saw this…

So what, if anything, do you see?  If you’re like me, you see some wavy lines which are essentially meaningless.  But if you are a devout Muslim who can read Arabic, you will likely see “Allah” (God) written out in Arabic.  And, before you roll your eyes, there are people who treat this as seriously as our lady does her cross-marked cracker.  So, what this shows you is that the interpretation of these “miracles” is strongly context and culturally specific.

In conclusion, what this all really teaches us about these kinds of “miraculous events” is this: it’s all in your head, folks, and people who believe strongly enough can find amazing ways to validate those beliefs – even if to the rest of us it’s utter gibberish.

It also seems to teach us something about God’s powers, namely that as time goes on the kind of “miracles” that God apparently performs become increasingly mundane, as this graph displays 🙂

Gods Power vs Time

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

The Vatican & In-Vitro Fertilization: They Need to Enter the 21st… No, the 20th, Century

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 5, 2010

Okay, I saw this earlier today and I just couldn’t contain my disgust: Dr. Robert Edwards received the Nobel Prize for medicine this week due to his pioneering work on in-vitro fertilization (IVF).  Since the first “test-tube baby” was born in 1978 (a woman who also happens to now have her own child), over 4 million children have been born to parents through this application of medical science to the problem of infertility.  That’s not what is disgusting me – read on…

Dr. Edwards and his wife (left) along with Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby”, and her son.

In the process, we have learned a huge number of fundamental things concerning human reproduction & fertility.  Most people would call that progress, but not the Vatican…

Vatican official criticizes award of Nobel Prize to Robert Edwards

An official with the Vatican criticized the decision to award the Nobel prize for medicine to British doctor Robert G. Edwards for his work on in vitro fertilization, Italy’s official news agency ANSA reported Tuesday.

Ignazio Carrasco de Paula, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said giving the award to Edwards was “completely inappropriate,” according to the news agency.

He said Edwards’ work had created a market for human eggs and created problems of embryos being frozen, the news agency said. …

Apparently, the Vatican has decided to butt heads with the forces of progress & medical science on this one, even though IVF is widely accepted in society.  What’s the big deal?  Humans generated through this artificial process of procreation are just as human as the rest of us who came about the old fashioned way.  Is the Vatican harboring some secret fear of Frankenstein’s monster or something equally silly?

The thing that really bugs me about this pronouncement from the Vatican is not that they don’t approve of IVF – hell, no one is making their followers undergo IVF procedures – but that if they had their way, they’d outlaw IVF for everyone else.  And, while they’re at it, they would also probably like to do away with all birth control, since they seem to have a really big hangup about anything having to do with sex.

Ironic, seeing as how the Roman Catholic Church is run by a bunch of men who don’t know the first thing about sex… with adults, that is.

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

The Catholic Church Sex Abuse Scandal, Papal “Infallibility”, and Free Inquiry

Posted by mattusmaximus on March 31, 2010

In the last week, a storm of controversy has raged concerning the Roman Catholic Church and its ongoing sexual abuse scandal. For almost a decade this controversy has gone on, taking up space on newspaper pages here and there.  But now the whole sordid affair has taken on a new dimension with the revelation that Vatican officials, including the current Pope Benedict XVI (whom I call, with good reason, the “Rat in the Hat”), not only knew about such systemic & widespread abuse but also actively worked to cover it up.  According to a recent New York Times article…

Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Boys

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

What is almost as horrifying as these revelations of the systemic sexual abuse of children by pedophile priests and the effort on the part of Church officials to cover it up, apparently going all the way to the upper echelons of the Vatican, is the reaction from the Vatican in the last week.  Specifically, I am referring to the absolutely staggering level of cognitive dissonance being displayed by the Vatican regarding any responsibility their institution has in this scandal.

Consider, if you will, the various reactions from the Vatican as it attempts to spin its way out of this mess, outlined by this NYTimes Op-Ed…

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in free inquiry, religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Classic Pareidolia: Jesus Seen in an Iron

Posted by mattusmaximus on November 28, 2009

Wow, just in time for the Holidays, we have another classic case of pareidolia: this time a woman in Massachusetts claims that she’s seen Jesus… in her clothing iron.

A Massachusetts woman who recently separated from her husband and had her hours cut at work says an image of Jesus Christ she sees on her iron has reassured her that “life is going to be good.”

Mary Jo Coady first noticed the image Sunday when she walked into her daughter’s room.

The brownish residue on the bottom of the iron looks like the face of a man with long hair.

The 44-year-old Coady was raised Catholic. She and her two college-age daughters agree that the image looks like Jesus and is proof that “he’s listening.”

Coady tells The Eagle-Tribune she hopes her story will inspire others during the holidays. She says she plans to keep the iron in a closet and buy a new one.

Umm… yeah.  Pardon me, but… IT’S A STAIN!!! Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system.  Come on folks, is it really any surprise that the person making this “miraculous discovery” (which has all the markings of a modern-day “religious relic” such as the infamous Virgin Mary Grill Cheese Sandwich) is a devout Catholic?  That is the classic marker of pareidolia – our evolution-wired brains are developed for pattern recognition, and one of the most recognized patterns for humans is another human’s face. Throw into the mix a bit of religious fervor (i.e. in this case, devout Catholicism) and viola! you have a “miracle” appearance of Jesus on an iron.

Here’s another interesting bit of pareidolia to get you thinking.  Years ago a man cut into a melon, and he saw this…

So what, if anything, do you see?  If you’re like me, you see some wavy lines which are essentially meaningless.  But if you are a devout Muslim who can read Arabic, you will likely see “Allah” (God) written out in Arabic.  And, before you roll your eyes, there are people who treat this as seriously as our Catholic lady does her Jesus-stained iron.

In conclusion, what this all really teaches us about these kinds of “miraculous events” is this: it’s all in your head, folks, and people who believe strongly enough can find amazing ways to validate those beliefs – even if to the rest of us it’s utter gibberish.

Posted in psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Holocaust Denial in the Vatican?

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 5, 2009

Sometimes I feel like it’s two steps forward and one step back for the advance of science, reason, and critical thinking. Case in point, it seems as if the specter of the Dark Ages could be rearing its ugly head in the Vatican.

Now, I’m not going to go on a rant about religion or my many criticisms of various Vatican policies, but what has happened recently certainly bears mentioning. Pope Benedict XVI recently decided to lift the excommunication of British Bishop Richard Williamson from the Catholic Church. Bishop Williamson is an ultra-traditionalist in the Catholic faith, and he was excommunicated from the Church in 1988 by Pope John Paul II because he had been ordained without Vatican permission by the renegade French archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

bishop williamson

So what? Well, it seems that Bishop Williamson is a Holocaust denier – a rather repulsive breed of pseudohistorian & conspiracy theorist who believes that the Holocaust never happened or, at the very least, was drastically over-exaggerated.

Just weeks ago, Bishop Williamson stated in a broadcast on Swedish television some of the following claims…

[That the historical evidence was] hugely against six million having been deliberately gassed in gas chambers as a deliberate policy of Adolf Hitler. I believe there were no gas chambers.

… I think that 200,000 to 300,000 Jews perished in Nazi concentration camps, but none of them by gas chambers.

… Anti-Semitism can only be bad if it is against the truth. But if something is true, it cant be bad. I am not interested in the word anti-Semitism.

Here’s the entire interview:

Bishop Williamson’s claims are complete garbage. This is because there are mountains of evidence which confirm the reality of the Holocaust – in fact, there’s so much evidence that the United States has an entire public museum dedicated to preserving the historical evidence of the Holocaust! It’s called the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and it resides in Washington DC, and I’ve toured it and seen this evidence for myself.

But that evidence doesn’t matter to deniers like Bishop Williamson – rather than look at the whole body of evidence placed before them, they tend to cherry-pick the data (taking what they like and discarding/ignoring everything else) for evidence they think might preserve their racist worldview. And even if that evidence doesn’t support their claims, they’ll spin it as if it does. This is precisely the same kind of thinking employed by all manner of conspiracy theorists & pseudoscientists in that, no matter what evidence is presented, the denier’s conclusion that the Holocaust wasn’t real or was drastically overblown is completely non-falsifiable.

Understandably, once this news hit, there was a huge public protest over this move on the part of Pope Benedict XVI. Critics from the Jewish community strongly condemned the move, and there was substantial criticism from within the Vatican itself as well. Yesterday, the controversy hit a fever pitch when Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany (where Holocaust denial is a crime) blasted the Pope for his rehabilitation of Bishop Williamson.

Initially, the Vatican defended the Pope against Merkel’s criticism, but thankfully just today the Vatican has publicly stated that in order for Bishop Williamson to be rehabilitated into the Catholic Church he must recant his views on Holocaust denial.

So it looks as if, for now, more reasonable heads have prevailed over at the Vatican – at least on this issue. However, the mere fact that Pope Benedict XVI even attempted this move in the first place is a bit unsettling to me. I worry that defenders of science & reason may have to cast a wary and watchful eye on Rome for some time to come.

Posted in Holocaust denial | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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