May 5, 2013

Carl Sagan

Green Army: Persons of Interest

Pale Blue Dot

The Earth in a sunbeam. …
This is where we live. …
On that blue dot.
That's where everyone you know, and everyone you ever heard of, and every human being who ever lived … lived out their lives.
I think this perspective underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish that blue dot — the only home we have.

Carl Sagan (1934 – 96)

(Emer Reynolds, The Farthest, 2017)

(Kenny Scott, Man Made Planet, 2017)

(Saturn Approaching Northern Summer, Cassini-Huygens, NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI, 2016)

(Death Dive: Into The Rings of Saturn, Catalyst, ABC Television, 14 September 2017)

Carl Sagan (1934 – 96):
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.
In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. …
There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.
(Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1994)

Jack McDevitt (1935):
Man has always considered himself the peak of creation, the part of the universe that thinks, the purpose for it all.
It's no doubt a gratifying view.
But the universe may have a different opinion.
(Seeker, Penguin, 2006, p 174)

Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626):
[The true method of science] first lights the candle, and then by means of the candle shows the way; commencing as it does with experience duly ordered and digested, not bungling or erratic, and from it deducing axioms, and from established axioms again new experiments. …
Neither the naked hand nor the understanding left to itself can effect much.
It is by instruments and helps that the work is done.
(Novum Organum Scientiarum, 1620)

Georges Lemaître (1894 – 1966):
Standing on a cooled cinder, we see that slow fading of the suns, and we try to recall the vanished brilliance of the origin of the worlds.

Christiaan Huygens (1629 – 95):
How vast those Orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them.
A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition in being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot.
(New Conjectures Concerning the Planetary Worlds, Their Inhabitants and Productions, c1690)

Herbert Wells (1866 – 1946):
… I saw the sun hopping swiftly across the sky, leaping it every minute, and every minute marking a day. …
… I saw the moon spinning swiftly through her quarters from new to full, and had a faint glimpse of the circling stars. …
I saw trees growing and changing like puffs of vapour, now brown, now green; they grew, spread, shivered, and passed away.
I saw huge buildings rise up faint and fair, and pass like dreams.
The whole surface of the earth seemed changed — melting and flowing under my eyes.
(The Time Machine, Chapter 3, 1895)

A day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars.
(The Discovery of the Future, Nature, 65:326, 1902)

[We] must remember what ruthless and utter destruction own own species has wrought not only upon animals … but upon its own inferior races.
The Tasmanians … were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants in the space of 50 years.
(War of the Worlds, Pearsons Magazine, April-December 1897)

George Orwell (1903 – 50):
Men of science can study the life-process of a flower, or they can split it up into its component elements, but any scientist will tell you that a flower does not become less wonderful, it becomes more wonderful, if you know all about it.
(Listener, 12 June 1941)

Jules Verne (1828 – 1905):
Science … has been built upon many errors; but they are errors which it was good to fall into, for they led to the truth.
(Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864)

Plutarch (46 – 120):
[In ancient Greece, public] opinion was instinctively hostile towards natural philosophers and visionaries … since it was generally believed that they belittled the power of the gods by explaining it away as nothing more than the operation of irrational causes and blind forces acting by necessity.
For this reason even Protagoras was driven into exile and Anaxagoras imprisoned … while Socrates, although he had nothing whatever to do with this kind of speculation, was nevertheless put to death for his connexion with philosophy.
It was not until later that the glorious fame of Plato shone forth, and served … through his teaching that the forces of nature are subject to a higher principle, to dispel the odium which had attached itself to such theories, thereby enabling them to circulate freely.
(Nicias, p 244)

[Anaxagoras (c510 – c428 BCE) taught men] to rise above that superstitious terror which springs from an ignorant wonder at the common phenomena of the heavens [and which] affects those who know nothing of the causes of such things — who fear the gods to the point of madness and are easily confused through their lack of experience.
A knowledge of natural causes, on the other hand, banishes these fears and replaces morbid superstition with a piety which rests on a sure foundation supported by rational hopes.
(Pericles, The Rise and Fall of Athens, Ian Scott-Kilvert, Translator, Penguin, 1960, p 174)

Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 92):
In Antiquity Anaxagoras was believed to have excelled all others in treating matters celestial and divine; but … the brain of Anaxagoras finally became disturbed: that often happens to those who immoderately pore over matters which do not appertain to them. …
[The] best judgement you can make about the heavens is not to make any at all.
(pp 600-1)

What vain human dreams, to make the Moon into some celestial Earth, dreaming up, like Anaxagoras, mountains and valleys for it, planting human dwellings and habitations on it and, like Plato and Plutarch, settling colonies there for our convenience: and then to make our own Earth into a brightly shining star …
(p 505)

There is some element of multiplicity within every species; it seems unlikely, therefore, that God made only this one universe and no [others] like it …
Now, if there are several worlds … how do we know whether the principles and laws which apply to this world apply equally to the others?
Other worlds may present different features and be differently governed.
(An apology for Raymond Sebond, The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991, p 587)

Carl Sagan (1934 – 96):
[For] every dollar spent on the [planetary exploration,] seven dollars are returned to the national economy.
(Cosmos, p 343)

Edward Gibbon (1737 – 94):
[The] practice of superstition is so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing vision.
Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, their curiosity with regard to future events, and their strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears beyond the limits of the visible world, were the principal causes which favoured the establishment of Polytheism.
So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity of believing, that the fall of any system of mythology will most probably be succeeded by the introduction of some other mode of superstition …
(The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776-89)

Moses Maimonides (1135 – 1204):
It is forbidden to engage in astrology, to utilize charms, to whisper incantations …
All of these practices are nothing more than lies and deceptions used by ancient pagan peoples to deceive the masses and lead them astray …
Wise and intelligent people know better.
(Avodah Zara, Mishneh Torah, Chapter 11)

Carl Sagan (1934 – 96):
Many of those alleging satanic abuse describe grotesque orgiastic rituals in which infants are murdered and eaten.
Such claims have been made about reviled groups by their detractors throughout European history, including Ironically, reports of cannibalistic infanticide and incestuous orgies were among the particulars used by Roman authorities to persecute the early Christians.
(Demon-Haunted World, 1997, p 151)

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546):
[The Jews should be dealt with in the same fashion as a surgeon treats a gangrenous limb:]
Cut, saw, and burn flesh, veins, bone, and marrow. …
Burn down their synagogues …
[Deal] harshly with them, as Moses did in the wilderness, slaying 3,000 lest the whole people perish …
If this does not help we must drive them out like mad dogs, so that we do not become partakers of their abominable blasphemy and all their other vices and thus merit God's wrath and be damned with them.
(On the Jews and Their Lies, 1542)

Thomas Huxley (1825 – 95):
Trust a witness in all matters in which neither
  • his self-interest,
  • his passions,
  • his prejudices, nor
  • the love of the marvellous
is strongly concerned.
When they are involved, require corroborative evidence in exact proportion to the contravention of probability by the thing testified.
(p 77)

The foundation of morality is to … give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibilities of knowledge.
(Demon Haunted World, 1987, p 194)

Anthony Grayling (1949):
Religion is the legacy of our cave-men ancestors.
Religious beliefs constituted their science, religious practices their higher technology.
  • As the former it offered them explanations of wind and storm, the origin of the world, the meaning of the stars.
  • As the latter it offered a means of avoiding drought, curing illness, and winning wars — by prayer, sacrifice, and the careful observance of taboos and rituals, all aimed at pleasing or at least appeasing the mysterious and often terrible forces which seemed to them to govern the world.

God … is the name of our ignorance.
(The Meaning of Things, Phoenix, 2001, pp 120 & 122)

Christopher Marlowe (1564 – 93):
I count religion but a childish toy,
And hold there is no sin but ignorance.
(The Jew of Malta, 1589-90)

(Space Shuttle, Episode 3)

(Emily Calandrelli, Space Station, Engineering Space, Episode 4, 2016)

Necessary Evil

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

— Exodus 22:18, King James Bible, 1611.

Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.

Voltaire | François-Marie Arouet (1697 ‒ 1778)

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (1623 – 62), Pensées, 1669.

(Brian Cox, Why Are We Here?, Human Universe, Episode 3, 2014)

Heinrich Kramer (1430 – 1505):
What else is woman but:
  • a foe to friendship,
  • an unescapable punishment,
  • a necessary evil,
  • a natural temptation,
  • a desirable calamity,
  • a domestic danger,
  • a delectable detriment,
  • an evil of nature painted with fair colors?
(Malleus Maleficarum, 1486)

Anthony Grayling (1949):
Following a visitation of the plague in 1630 there was a series of hysterical outbreaks in the [Ursuline convent in Loudun,] which began to coalesce around references to [Urbain Grandier (1590 – 1634), the priest of St-Pierre-du-Marche,] and finally into accusations that he had summoned the devil to possess not only the Mother Superior, Jeanne des Anges, but most of the other nuns.
(p 119)

The principal evidence against Urbain Grandier was a contract he had signed with Satan and assorted subordinate devils, all of whom — Astoroth, Beelzebub, and Leviathan among them — had put their signatures to the document too, in flourishing calligraphy.

Before being burned alive at the stake (lesser felons were strangled before the flames were lit) he was tortured in the 'boots', a contraption designed to crush the prisoner's feet and lower limbs.
His exorcists, fearing that the common executioner would not be strong enough to overcome the resistance of the devils in Grandier, wielded the hammers themselves.
He was dragged from the torture chamber to the stake, and even as (according to one witness) the blood and marrow from his mangled legs left a trail on the cobblestones, some of the nuns took pity on him and tried to recant.
To the exorcists this was proof that the devils were not quite yet banished.
(The Meaning of Things, Phoenix, 2001, p 120)

Ian Stewart (1945):
[Hypatia's] death was brutal, hacked to pieces by a mob wielding sharp tiles (some say oyster-shells).
Her mangled body was then burned.
This punishment may be evidence that Hypatia was condemned for witchcraft — indeed, the first prominent witch to be killed by the early Christians — because the penalty for witchcraft prescribed by Constantius II was for:
[Their flesh to be] torn off their bones with iron hooks.
(Taming the Infinite, Quercus, 2008, p 37)

Carl Sagan (1934 – 96)

Only once before in our history was there the promise of a brilliant scientific civilization. …
(p 333)

{Alexandria was the greatest city the Western world had ever seen.}
From the time of its creation in the third century BCE until its destruction seven centuries later, it was the brain and heart of the ancient world.

Alexandria was the publishing capital of the planet. …
Books were expensive; every one of them was copied by hand.
The Library was the repository of the most accurate copies in the world. …
The Old Testament comes down to us mainly from the Greek translations made in the Alexandrian Library. …

Rarely has a state so avidly supported the pursuit of knowledge.
[Not only did the Ptolemys devote] much of their enormous wealth to the acquisition of every Greek book, as well as works from Africa, Persia, India, Israel and other parts of the world [they also] financed scientific research [and encouraged the generation of] new knowledge.
  • Eratosthenes accurately calculated the size of the Earth, mapped it, and argued that India could be reached by sailing westward from Spain.
  • Hipparchus anticipated that stars come into being, slowly move during the course of centuries, and eventually perish; it was he who first catalogued the positions and magnitudes of the stars to detect such changes.
  • Euclid produced a textbook on geometry [—] a work that was to help awaken the scientific interest of Kepler, Newton and Einstein.
  • Galen wrote [foundational] works on healing and anatomy …
(p 334)

The last scientist who worked in the Library was a mathematician, astronomer, physicist and the head of the Neoplatonic school of philosophy …
Her name was Hypatia [and she] was born in Alexandria in 370. …

The Alexandria of Hypatia’s time — by then long under Roman rule — was a city under grave strain. …
The growing Christian Church was consolidating its power and attempting to eradicate pagan influence and culture.
Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, despised her because of her close friendship with the Roman governor, and because she was a symbol of learning and science, which were largely identified by the early Church with paganism.
(p 335)

[In spite of] great personal danger, she continued to teach and publish, until, in the year 415, on her way to work she was set upon by a fanatical mob of Cyril’s parishioners.
They dragged her from her chariot, tore off her clothes, and … flayed her flesh from her bones [with abalone shells.]
Her remains were burned, her works obliterated, [and] her name forgotten.
Cyril was made a saint. …
[The last remnants of the Library] were destroyed soon [afterwards.]

It was as if [an] entire civilization had [lobotomized itself — erasing] most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions [forever.]
[Of] the 123 plays of Sophocles … only seven survived. …
Of the physical contents of that glorious Library not a single scroll remains.
(p 336)

(Cosmos, Macdonald Futura, 1980)

The demonic seducers
  • of women were labelled incubi;
  • of men, succubi.
There are cases in which nuns reported, in some befuddlement, a striking resemblance between the incubus and the priest-confessor, or the bishop …

The theologian Meric Casaubon argued — in his 1668 book Of Credulity and Incredulity [—] that witches must exist because … everyone believes in them.
(p 111)
Pope Innocent VIII:
It has come to Our ears that members of both sexes do not avoid to have intercourse with evil angels, incubi, and succubi, and that by their sorceries, and by their incantations, charms, and conjurations, they suffocate, extinguish, and cause to perish the births of women [along with all manner of] abominations and enormities. …
[Consequently,] Our dear sons Henry Kramer and James Sprenger [have] by Letters Apostolic [been] delegated as Inquisitors of these heretical [depravities.]
With this Bull, Innocent initiated the systematic … torture and execution of countless [women and girls] all over Europe. …
(p 112)

With exhaustive citations of scripture and of ancient and modern scholars [Kramer and Sprenger] produced the Malleus Maleficarum
What the [Hammer of Witches essentially] comes down to … is that if you're accused of witchcraft, you're a witch.
Torture is an unfailing means to demonstrate the validity of the accusation {[— provided] the instruments of torture [are first] blessed by the priests.}
There are no rights of the defendant.
There is no opportunity to confront the accusers. …

[At the Pope's instigation,] Inquisitors began springing up all over Europe.
It quickly [degenerated into] an expense account scam.
All costs of investigation, trial and execution were borne by the accused or her relatives [including:]
  • per diem for the private detectives hired to spy on her,
  • wine for her guards,
  • banquets for her judges,
  • the travel expenses of a messenger sent to fetch a more experienced torturer from another city …
  • the faggots, tar and hangman's rope [and]
  • [bonuses for] the members of the tribunal for each witch burned.
[Following a successful prosecution, the balance of the witch's estate was then] divided between Church and State.
As this legally and morally sanctioned mass murder and theft became institutionalized [attention shifted] from poor hags and crones to [more lucrative targets among] the middle class and well-to-do of both sexes.
(p 113)

[It] was widely accepted] that tens of thousands of witches had gathered for a Sabbath in public squares in France [and] that 12,000 of them darkened the skies as they flew to Newfoundland. …

Legions of women were burned to death [based on a] well-intentioned sentence [from] canon law:
Council of Tours:
The Church abhors bloodshed.
Innocent himself died in 1492, following unsuccessful attempts to keep him alive by transfusion (which resulted in the deaths of three boys) and by suckling at the breast of a nursing mother.
He was mourned by his mistress and their children. …

In Britain witch-finders [so called 'prickers', received] a handsome bounty for each girl or woman they turned over for execution. …
Typically they looked for 'devil's marks' — scars or birthmarks or nevi — that when pricked with a pin neither hurt nor bled.
A simple sleight of hand often gave the appearance that the pin penetrated deep into the witch's flesh.
When no visible marks were apparent, 'invisible marks' sufficed.
Upon the gallows, one mid-seventeenth-century pricker
… confessed [that] he had been the death of above 220 women in England and Scotland [—] for the gain of twenty shillings apiece. …
(p 114, emphasis added)

Not a single saint criticized the practice of torturing and burning 'witches' and heretics.
(p 139)

At great personal risk, [Jesuit Friedrich] von Spee protested the witch mania.
So did a few others, mainly Catholic and Protestant clergy who had witnessed these crimes at first hand — including:
  • Gianfrancesco Ponzinibio in Italy, Cornelius Loos in Germany and Reginald Scot in Britain in the sixteenth century; as well as
  • Johann Mayfurth ('Listen, you money-hungry judges and bloodthirsty prosecutors, the apparitions of the Devil are all lies') in Germany and Alonzo Salazar de Frias in Spain in the seventeenth century.
Along with von Spee and the Quakers generally, they are heroes of our species.
Why are they not better known?
(p 387)

The last execution for witchcraft in
  • Holland … was in 1610; …
  • England, 1684;
  • America, 1692;
  • France, 1745;
  • Germany, 1775; and
  • Poland, 1793.
In Italy, the Inquisition was condemning people to death until the end of the eighteenth century, and inquisitorial torture was not abolished in the Catholic Church until 1816.
The last bastion of support for the reality of witchcraft … has been the Christian churches. …

Why was it resolutely supported by conservatives, monarchists and religious fundamentalists?
Why opposed by liberals, Quakers and followers of the Enlightenment?
(p 388)

(The Demon-Haunted World, 1997)

Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 92)

My local witches go in risk of their lives, depending on the testimony of each new authority who comes and gives substance to their delusions.
The Word of God offers us absolutely certain and irrefragable examples of such phenomena, but to adapt and apply them to things happening in our own times because we cannot understand what caused them or how they were done needs a greater intelligence than we possess.
(p 1166)

To kill people, there must be sharp and brilliant clarity; this life of ours is too real, too fundamental, to be used to guarantee these supernatural and imagined events.
[Indeed,] we should not always [even] be content with the confessions of such folk, for they have been known to accuse themselves of killing people who have later been found alive and well.
(p 1167)

We, who are never-endingly confused by our own internal delusions, should not go looking for unknown external ones.
It seems to me that it is excusable to disbelieve any wonder, at least in so far as we can weaken its 'proof' by diverting it along some non-miraculous way.
I am of Saint Augustine's opinion, that in matters difficult to verify and perilous to believe, it is better to incline towards doubt than certainty.
(p 1168)

After all, it is to put a very high value on your surmises to roast a man alive for them.
(p 1169)

[Our] reasons often run ahead of the facts and enjoy such an infinitely wide jurisdiction that they are used to make judgements about the very void and nonentity.
Apart from the pliancy of our inventive powers when forging reasons for all sorts of idle fancies, our imagination finds it just as easy to receive the stamp of false impressions derived from frivolous appearances …
(p 1171)

(On the lame, The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, M A Screech, Translator, Penguin, 1991)

Who Speaks For Earth?

All the bombs dropped on all the cities in World War II amounted to some two million tons, two megatons, of TNT …
By the late twentieth century, two megatons was the energy released in the explosion of a single … thermonuclear bomb …
By the ninth decade of the twentieth century the strategic missile and bomber forces of the Soviet Union and the United States were aiming warheads at over 15,000 designated targets.
(p 320)

[On] March 1, 1954, a thermonuclear weapons test at Bikini in the Marshall Islands detonated at higher yield than expected.
[The inhabitants of the tiny atoll of Rongalap, 150 kilometers away, received an average radiation dose of] about 175 rads, a little less than half the dose needed to kill an average person.
[Radioactive strontium] concentrated in their bones, and [radioactive iodine] in their thyroids.
Two-thirds of the children and one-third of the adults later developed thyroid abnormalities, growth retardation or malignant tumors.
In compensation, the Marshall Islanders received expert medical care.
(pp 321-322)

In the United States … corporate profits in military weapons procurement are 30 to 50 percent higher than in an equally technological but competitive civilian market.
Cost overruns in military weapons systems are permitted on a scale that would be considered unacceptable in the civilian sphere. …
According to some estimates, almost half the scientists and high technologists on Earth are employed full-or part-time on military matters. …
Those engaged in the development and manufacture of weapons of mass destruction are given salaries, perquisites of power and [secrecy permitting, public honors. …]
Military secrecy makes the military the most difficult sector of any society for the citizens to monitor.
(p 328)

The United States is one of the few governments that actually supports an agency devoted to reversing the arms race.
But the comparative budgets of the Department of Defense (153 billion dollars per year in 1980) and of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (0.018 billion dollars per year) remind us of the relative importance we have assigned to the two activities.
(p 330)

Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few.
[Most people] had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library.
New findings were not explained or popularized. …
Discoveries in mechanics and steam technology were applied mainly to the perfection of weapons, the encouragement of superstition, the amusement of kings. …
Science never captured the imagination of the multitude.
There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism.
When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them.
(p 335)

(Carl Sagan, Cosmos, Macdonald Futura, 1980)


Who Speaks For Earth?

Necessary Evil

The Most Precious Thing

Science and Hope


The Dragon In My Garage

Newton's Sleep

When Scientists Know Sin

Science and Witchcraft

Would you like to know more?

Carl Sagan (1934 – 96)

  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, 1996, Headline Book Publishing, 1997.

    The Most Precious Thing

    … Nancy and Ronald Reagan relied on an astrologer in private and public matters …
    (p 23)

    The method of science … is far more important than the findings of science.
    (p 26)

    Science and Hope

    Avoidable human misery is more often caused not so much by stupidity as by ignorance …

    Science is far from a perfect instrument of knowledge.
    It's just the best we have.
    (p 29)

    Science by itself cannot advocate courses of human action, but it can certainly illuminate the possible consequences of alternative courses of action. …

    It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of everything — new ideas and established wisdom.
    This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change. …

    [Every] time we exercise self-criticism, every time we test our ideas against the outside world, we are doing science.
    (p 30)

    [There] are four main reasons for a concerted effort to convey science … to every citizen.
    • Despite plentiful opportunities for misuse, science can be the golden road out of poverty and backwardness for emerging nations.
      It makes national economies and the global civilization run. …
    • Science alerts us to the perils introduced by our world-altering technologies, especially to the global environment on which our lives depend.
      [It] provides an essential early warning system.
    • Science teaches us about the deepest issues of origins, natures and fates — of our species, of life, of our planet, of the Universe. …
    • The values of science and the values of democracy are concordant, in many cases indistinguishable. …
      Science [requires] the free exchange of ideas …
      [Its] values are antithetical to secrecy.
      Science holds to no special vantage points or privileged positions.
      Both science and democracy encourage unconventional opinions and vigorous debate.
      Both demand adequate reason, coherent argument [and] rigorous standards of evidence and honesty.
      Science is a way to call the bluff of those who only pretend to knowledge.
    (p 41)


    The whole idea of a democratic application of scepticism is that everyone should have the essential tools to effectively and constructively evaluate claims to knowledge. …
    But the tools of scepticism are generally unavailable to the citizens of our society.
    They're hardly ever mentioned in the schools …
    Our politics, economics, advertising and religions (New Age and Old) are awash in credulity.
    Those who have something to sell, those who wish to influence public opinion, those in power … have a vested interest in discouraging scepticism.
    (p 76)

    The Demon-Haunted World

    In the witch trials, mitigating evidence or defence witnesses were inadmissible.
    In any case, it was nearly impossible to provide compelling alibis for accused witches …
    [If] a husband attested that his wife was asleep in his arms at the very moment she was accused of frolicking with the devil at a witch's Sabbath … the archbishop patiently explained that a demon had taken the place of the wife.
    The husbands were not to imagine that their powers of perception could exceed Satan's powers of deception.
    The beautiful young women were perforce consigned to the flames. …

    There were strong erotic and misogynistic elements, as might be expected in a sexually repressed, male-dominated society with inquisitors drawn from the class of nominally celibate priests.
    The trials paid close attention to the quality and quantity of orgasm in the supposed copulations of defendants with demons or the Devil … and to the nature of the Devil's 'member' (cold, by all reports).
    'Devil's marks' were found
    generally on the breasts or private parts …
    [Accordingly, the] pubic hair was shaved, and the genitalia were carefully inspected by the exclusively male inquisitors.
    In the immolation of the 20-year-old Joan of Arc, after her dress had caught fire the Hangman of Rouen slaked the flames so onlookers could view[:]
    [All] the secrets which can or should be in a woman.
    (p 115)

    The chronicle of those who were consumed by fire in the … German city of Wurzburg in the … 1598 [includes:]
    • The steward of the senate, named Gering;
    • old Mrs Kanzler;
    • the tailor's fat wife;
    • the woman cook of Mr Mengerdorf;
    • a stranger;
    • a strange woman;
    • Baunach, a senator,
    • the fattest citizen in Wurtzburg;
    • the old smith of the court;
    • an old woman;
    • a little girl, nine or ten years old;
    • a younger girl, her little sister;
    • the mother of the two little aforementioned girls;
    • Liebler's daughter;
    • Goebel's child, the most beautiful girl in Wurtzburg;
    • a student who knew many languages;
    • two boys from the Minster, each twelve years old;
    • Stepper's little daughter;
    • the woman who kept the bridge gate; …
    • the little son of the town council bailiff;
    • the wife of Knertz, the butcher;
    • the infant daughter of Dr Schultz;
    • a blind girl;
    • Schwartz, canon at Hach …
    Some were given special humane attention:
    The little daughter of Valkenberger was privately executed and burned.
    There were twenty-eight public immolations, each with four to six victims on average, in that small city in a single year.
    This was a microcosm of what was happening all across Europe.
    No one knows how many were killed altogether — perhaps hundreds of thousands …

    Those responsible for prosecuting, torturing, judging, burning and justifying were selfless [and infallible.]
    The confessions of witchcraft could not be based on hallucinations, say, or attempts to satisfy the inquisitors and stop the torture.
    [If this were the case] the Catholic Church would be committing a great crime by burning witches.
    [Therefore anyone raising] such possibilities [was] attacking the Church and ipso facto committing a mortal sin.
    Critics of witch-burning were punished and, in some cases, themselves burnt. The inquisitors and torturers were doing God's work. …

    Heresy was a still more serious crime, and both Catholics and Protestants punished it ruthlessly.

    In the sixteenth century the [William Tyndale attempted to publish an English translation of the] New Testament …
    But if people could … read the Bible in their own language [they might] form their own, independent religious views. …
    This was a challenge to the job security of Roman Catholic priests.
    (p 116, italics added)

    [As a precaution, Tyndale was] garrotted [then] burned at the stake.
    His copies of the New Testament (which a century later became the basis of the … King James translation) were then hunted down house-to-house by armed posses [of committed Christians. …]

    In the last judicial execution of witches in England, a woman and her nine-year-old daughter were hanged.
    Their crime was raising a rain storm by taking their stockings off. …

    [It was not] until the eighteenth century [that] was mental illness no longer [attributed] to supernatural causes …
    Kramer & Sprenger:
    [Devils] busy themselves by interfering with the process of normal copulation and conception, by obtaining human semen, and themselves transferring it. …
    (Malleus Maleficarum)
    (p 117)
    Thomas Acquinas (1225 – 74):
    [Demons] can transfer the semen which they have collected and inject it into the bodies of others. …
    (On the Trinity)

    Giovanni di Fidanza | Saint Bonaventure (1221 – 74):
    [Succubi] yield to males and receive their semen; by cunning skills, the demons preserve its potency, and afterwards, with the permission of God, they become incubi and pour it out into female repositories.
    The products of these demon-mediated unions are also, when they grow up, visited by demons. …

    [All] these creatures … are well known to fly [—] indeed they inhabit the upper air.
    [So while there are no spaceships] in these stories … most of the central elements of the alien abduction account are present, including sexually obsessive non-humans who
    • live in the sky,
    • walk through walls,
    • communicate telepathically, and
    • perform breeding experiments on the human species.
    (p 118)

    In [the] Talmudic tradition the archetypical succubus was Lilith, whom God made from the dust along with Adam.
    She was expelled from Eden for insubordination — not to God, but to Adam.
    [And has, ever since, spent] her nights seducing Adam's descendants.
    (p 119)

    The Dragon in my Garage

    [What's] the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?
    (p 161)

    Newton's Sleep

    [Societies] that teach contentment with our present station in life, in expectation of post mortem reward, tend to inoculate themselves against revolution.
    Further, fear of death, which in some respects is adaptive in the evolutionary struggle for existence, is maladaptive in warfare.
    Those cultures that teach an afterlife of bliss for heroes [may, by doing so,] gain a competitive advantage.
    Charles Darwin (1809 – 82):
    There can be no doubt that a tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good would be victorious over most other tribes, and this would be natural selection.
    (The Descent of Man, 1871, cited by Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis, 2006, p 230)
    (p 255)

    When Scientists Know Sin

    [Edward Teller] has been a major force in preventing a comprehensive treaty banning nuclear weapons tests.
    He made it much more difficult to accomplish the 1963 Limited (above-ground) Test Ban Treaty.
    His argument that above-ground testing was essential to maintain and 'improve' the nuclear arsenals, that ratifying the treaty would 'give away the future safety of our country' has proven specious. …

    [In] the 1980s, Teller sold President Ronald Reagan the notion of Star Wars, called by them the 'Strategic Defense Initiative', SDI.
    Reagan seems to have believed [Teller's fantasy] that it was possible to build a desk-sized orbiting hydrogen-bomb-driven X-ray laser that would destroy 10,000 Soviet warheads in flight, and provide genuine protection for the citizens of the United States in case of global thermonuclear war.

    It is [falsely] claimed by apologists for the Reagan administration that … SDI was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    There is no serious evidence in support of this contention.
    Andrei Sakharov, Yevgeny Velikhov, Roald Sagdeev, and other scientists who advised President Mikhail Gorbachev made it clear that if the United States really went ahead with a Star Wars programme, the safest and cheapest Soviet response would be merely to augment its existing arsenal of nuclear weapons and delivery systems.
    In this way Star Wars could have increased, not decreased, the peril of thermonuclear war.
    At any rate, Soviet expenditures on space-based defences against American nuclear missiles were comparatively paltry, hardly of a magnitude to trigger a collapse of the Soviet economy. …

    Somehow, somewhere, [Teller] wants to believe that thermonuclear weapons, and he, will be acknowledged by the human species as its saviour and not its destroyer.
    (p 272-3)

    The Path to Freedom

    It is worth noting, though,
    • that much of the abolitionist ferment arose out of Christian, especially Quaker, communities of the North;
    • that the traditional black Southern Christian churches played a key role in the historic American civil rights struggle of the 1960s; and
    • that many of its leaders most notably Martin Luther King, Jr — were ministers ordained in those churches.
    (p 344)

    Between 1940 and 1992, the fraction of African-Americans who had completed high school soared from 7% to 82%.
    (p 336)

    According to one estimate, between 1980 and 1985 alone more American infants and children died of preventable disease, malnutrition and other consequences of dire poverty than all American battle deaths during the Vietnam War.
    (p 338)

    Science and Witchcraft

    In 1798, [exploiting] tensions between France and the US, and a widespread fear that French and Irish immigrants were somehow intrinsically unfit to be Americans, the Federalists passed a set of laws that have come to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. …
    The Alien Act gave President John Adams the power to deport any foreigner who aroused his suspicions. Making the President nervous, said a member of Congress, 'is the new crime'.
    (p 379)

    The Sedition Act made it unlawful to publish 'false or malicious' criticism of the government or to inspire opposition to any of its acts.
    Some two dozen arrests were made, ten people were convicted, and many more were censored or intimidated into silence. …

    {Giving credit for French and Irish cultural triumphs, advocating equal rights for them, was in effect decried in conservative circles as sentimental — unrealistic political correctness. …
    Those who seek power at any price detect a societal weakness, a fear that they can ride into office.}

    As soon as Jefferson was elected, indeed in the first week of his Presidency in 1801, he began pardoning every victim of the Sedition Act …
    By 1802, none of the Alien and Sedition Acts remained on the books.…
    (p 380)

    [Nobel Prize winning chemist] Linus Pauling (1901 – 94) was, more than any other person, responsible for the Limited Test Ban Treaty of 1963, which halted above-ground explosions of nuclear weapons by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. …
    In the American press, he was generally vilified for his troubles, and in the 1950s the State Department cancelled his passport because he had been insufficiently anti-communist.
    His Nobel Prize was awarded for the application of quantum mechanical insights — resonances, and what is called hybridization of orbitals — to explain the nature of the chemical bond that joins atoms together into molecules. …
    He won a second Nobel Prize, this one in peace, for his work on the nuclear test ban, becoming the only person in history to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.
    (p 392-3)
    Jeremy Stone [President, Federation of American Scientists]:
    Edward Teller … insisted, at first for personal intellectual reasons and later for geopolitical reasons, that a hydrogen bomb be built.
    Using tactics of exaggeration and even smear, he successfully manipulated the policy-making process for five decades, denouncing all manner of arms control measures and promoting arms-race-escalating programs of many kinds.

    The Soviet Union, hearing of his H-bomb project, built its own H-bomb.
    As a direct consequence of the unusual personality of this particular individual and of the power of the H-bomb, the world may have risked a level of annihilation that might not otherwise have transpired, or might have come later and under better political controls. …
    Edward Teller's fixation on the H-bomb may have led him to do more to imperil life on this planet than any other individual in our species …
    (p 393-5)

    Real Patriots Ask Questions

    Handguns are available for self-protection in Seattle, but not in nearby Vancouver, Canada …
    [Handgun] killings are five times more common in Seattle and the handgun suicide rate is ten times greater in Seattle.
    Guns make impulsive killing easy.
    (p 397)

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