F Rosa Rubicondior: March 2013

Saturday 30 March 2013

The Fake Turin Shroud

How to tell the 'Shroud of Turin' is a hoax.

For those who have not heard of the Turin Shroud:

The Shroud of Turin or Turin Shroud (Italian: Sindone di Torino, Sacra Sindone) is a linen cloth bearing the image of a man who appears to have suffered physical trauma in a manner consistent with crucifixion. It is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, northern Italy. The image on the shroud is commonly associated with Jesus, his crucifixion and burial. It is much clearer in black-and-white negative than in its natural sepia color. The negative image was first observed in 1898, on the reverse photographic plate of amateur photographer Secondo Pia, who was allowed to photograph it while it was being exhibited in the Turin Cathedral.

The historical records for the Shroud of Turin can be separated into two time periods: before 1390 and from 1390 to the present. The period until 1390 is subject to debate and controversy among historians. Prior to the 14th century there are some allegedly congruent but controversial references such as the Pray Codex. It is often mentioned that the first certain historical record dates from 1353 or 1357. However the presence of the Turin Shroud in Lirey, France, is only undoubtedly attested in 1390 when Bishop Pierre d'Arcis wrote a memorandum where he charged that the Shroud was a forgery. The history from the 15th century to the present is well documented. In 1453 Margaret de Charny deeded the Shroud to the House of Savoy. As of the 17th century the shroud has been displayed (e.g. in the chapel built for that purpose by Guarino Guarini) and in the 19th century it was first photographed during a public exhibition.

There are little definite historical records concerning the shroud prior to the 14th century. Although there are numerous reports of Jesus' burial shroud, or an image of his head, of unknown origin, being venerated in various locations before the 14th century, there is little reliable historical evidence that these refer to the shroud currently at Turin Cathedral. A burial cloth, which some historians maintain was the Shroud, was owned by the Byzantine emperors but disappeared during the Sack of Constantinople in 1204...

The history of the shroud from the 15th century is well recorded. In 1532, the shroud suffered damage from a fire in the chapel where it was stored. A drop of molten silver from the reliquary produced a symmetrically placed mark through the layers of the folded cloth. Poor Clare Nuns attempted to repair this damage with patches. In 1578 the House of Savoy took the shroud to Turin and it has remained at Turin Cathedral ever since.

Repairs were made to the shroud in 1694 by Sebastian Valfrè to improve the repairs of the Poor Clare nuns. Further repairs were made in 1868 by Clotilde of Savoy. The shroud remained the property of the House of Savoy until 1983, when it was given to the Holy See, the rule of the House of Savoy having ended in 1946.

A fire, possibly caused by arson, threatened the shroud on 11 April 1997. In 2002, the Holy See had the shroud restored. The cloth backing and thirty patches were removed, making it possible to photograph and scan the reverse side of the cloth, which had been hidden from view. A ghostly part-image of the body was found on the back of the shroud in 2004. The most recent public exhibition of the Shroud was in 2010.

Lord Carey Is Whinging Again

BBC News - Lord Carey attacks PM over Christian 'support':

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and pastoral head of the world-wide Anglican Communion, seems to have found a new role for himself since retiring - that of Winger in Chief for Christianity and Defender of Christian Privilege.

In an attack on Prime Minister David Cameron's government today he accused them of "aiding and abetting" aggressive secularisation - which is a euphemism of course for allowing other groups, particularly non-believers, to have a say and to be listened to when they complain about being dictated to by Christians. For "aggressive secularisation" read "successfully getting a non-Christian point of view heard", something which Carey feels infringes the Christian right to hold a monopoly of opinion on all matters social and moral.

Carey quoted a ComRes poll which showed that "more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a 'persecuted minority'", which is not the same thing as actually being a persecuted minority but never-the-less contains the interesting admission that Christians actually are now a minority in the UK, and yet they still demand their traditional privileges and complain of persecution when they lose them.

Since retiring from the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, Carey has, amongst other things:
As Archbishop of Canterbury, and now as a life peer, Lord Carey, along with a number of Anglican bishops, has the right to speak and vote in the UK government upper chamber and thus to influence legislation from an unelected and unaccountable position simply because he is or was a senior Christian cleric.

The Archbishop of Canterbury traditionally crowns the British Head of State in a Christian coronation ceremony which confirms the Head of State as head of the Anglican Church, hence establishing the Anglican Church as the official state church and Christianity as the official religion of the UK.

The UK parliament opens with Christian prayers each day it is in session.

The default oaths given by jurors and witnesses in English courts is a Christian one unless specifically requested otherwise.

The Secretary of State for Local Government recently used his executive power to amend the Local Government Act to make it legal for Local Councils to include prayers on their agenda, after this was ruled illegal by the courts. This means that non-believers who fail to attend prayers can be declared not to have attended the full meeting, giving their constituents the impression that they have not attended as many council meetings as they should have.

Religious apologists complain bitterly that atheists and secularists are aggressive and hostile in their criticism of them. I always say: look, when you guys were in charge, you didn’t argue with us, you just burnt us at the stake. Now what we’re doing is, we’re presenting you with some arguments and some challenging questions, and you complain.
A.C. Grayling
The Anglican and Catholic Churches run many of our Schools, although they are financed by the state, hence tax-payers are financing what is, in effect, a privileged recruiting opportunity, providing the church with access to vulnerable and impressionable minds in a captive setting not afforded to groups presenting alternative views, and associating Christian belief with authority figures and official sanction.

Churches and religious institutions are regarded as charities in the UK and so pay no tax on their income and can claim exemption from VAT on their purchases. Promotion of their faith and using it to recruit members is considered a legitimate use of charitable funds, which thus receives a hidden tax-payers' subsidy.

The National Health Service, funded by taxation, bears the cost of providing chaplaincy services and thus represents a hidden tax-payers' subsidy from funds ostensibly raised for health care, for religion, mainly Christian.

Strangely, one never hears Carey, nor any other religious cleric, complain about this arrogant imposition of their superstition and superstition-based laws on those of us who have neither requested nor want it.

Ironically, Lord Carey's whinge comes in the middle of a four-day celebration of a plagiarised Christian festival during which banks, schools, Government and Local Authority services will be closed, essential services will be reduced to a minimal safe level and publically-owned radio and television services will broadcast programmes will be devoted to Christian themes, usually presenting the Christian myth of Jesus as real history, the disgusting idea of human blood sacrifice as a good thing and the repugnant superstition that all humans are innately evil and need 'cleansing' of sin by shedding the blood of an innocent person, by magic spells cast by clerics, by chanting ritual words and by making special hand movement.

In other words, that we need clerics like Lord Carey to save us from the god they invented in order to give them something to save us from.

For those Christians who feel aggrieved and want to be on guard against these aggressive secularists, see How To Recognise A Militant Secularist - A 12-Point Guide.

'via Blog this'

submit to reddit

Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Famous Christians - Fred Phelps

Fred Phelps is currently America's Christian hate-monger in chief and head of what has been dubbed The Most Hated Family In America and of the Westboro Baptist Church which he founded to propagate his messages of Christian hate.
Fred Waldron Phelps, Sr. (born November 13, 1929) is an American pastor heading the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), an independent Baptist church based in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps is a disbarred lawyer, founder of the Phelps Chartered law firm, and a former civil rights activist...

Phelps's followers frequently picket various events, such as military funerals, gay pride gatherings, high-profile political gatherings, university commencement ceremonies, performances of The Laramie Project, mainstream Christian gatherings and concerts with which he had no affiliation, arguing it is their sacred duty to warn others of God's anger.

In response to Phelps' protests at military funerals, President George W. Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act into law in May 2006, and, in April 2007, Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a bill establishing a 150-foot no-picketing buffer zone around funerals. As of April 2006, 8 other states have enacted similar laws and 10 more were considering it. On August 6, 2012, President Obama signed Pub.L. 112–154, the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012 which, among other things, requires a 300-foot and 2-hour buffer zone around military funerals.
Source: Wikipedia - Fred Phelps
It has been said that Phelp's fundamentalist Christianity, untempered as it is by any humanism or humanitarian notions of respect for the dignity of others, shows us the difference between pure, unadulterated Christianity, and Christianity as it is today having been moderated and tamed by humanism and basic human decency.

Enjoy the following Phelpian philosophy and be grateful to those who have managed to get Christianity under some sort of control.
God hates America, and those calamities last Tuesday [September 11, 2001] are none other than the wrath of God, smiting fag America... That wasn't any accident. That wasn't any coincidence. There's only America to blame for those tragedies.
Sermon_20010914.mp3. Last fm. Westboro Baptist Church. September 14, 2001.

God hates America, and God demonstrated that hatred to some modest degree only last Tuesday -- sent in those bombers, those hellacious 767 Boeing bombers, and it was a glorious sight. What you need to do is see in those flames -- those sickening, twisting, burning, life-destroying flames, brightly shining from every television set around the world! You need to see in those flames a little preview of the flames of Hell that are going to soon engulf you, my friend. Burn your soul forever!
Sermon_20010914.mp3. Last fm. Westboro Baptist Church. September 14, 2001.

I never understood why, when [the media asked him], "Why are you so against the homosexuals? Did you have a homosexual experience? Do you have homosexual tendencies?" And he would get so mad, he would shut down. And he'd be like, "I can't talk to this person anymore, they're stupid." His reaction to that was stronger than any other question you can ask him. So I always wondered that - why does he get so mad? If I'm not gay, I'll just say I'm not gay. And I'm not going to freak out, like, "Why are you calling me gay?" I always thought that was super strange. … I don't know what happened there, so [speculation] is all that I can leave it at. But something happened, and something made him change his mind about the military, and in turn have kind of a crusade against sexual immorality and homosexuals.
Thank God for 9/11. Thank God that, five years ago, the wrath of God was poured out upon this evil nation. America, land of the sodomite damned. We thank thee, Lord God Almighty, for answering the prayers of those that are under the altar.
9/11: God's Wrath Revealed. Live Leaks. Westboro Baptist Church. September 8, 2006

We told you, right after it happened five years ago, that the deadly events of 9/11 were direct outpourings of divine retribution, the immediate visitation of God's wrath and vengeance and punishment for America's horrendous sodomite sins, that worse and more of it was on the way. We further told you that any politician, any political official, any preacher telling you differently as to the cause and interpretation of 9/11 is a dastardly lying false prophet, cowardly and mean, and headed for hell. And taking you with him! God is no longer with America, but is now America's enemy. God himself is now America's terrorist.
9/11: God's Wrath Revealed. Live Leaks. Westboro Baptist Church. September 8, 2006

For ten long weary years prior to 9/11, WBC warned you daily on the mean streets of this nation that your sodomite sins will be avenged by an angry God except you repent. You persecuted us for our trouble, thereby aggravating your great transgression. On 9/11/01, God Almighty dealt backsliding America a staggering blow.
9/11: God's Wrath Revealed. Live Leaks. Westboro Baptist Church. September 8, 2006

Same-sex marriage, by any name, civil union or otherwise, is the ultimate smashed-mouth in-your-face insult to God Almighty, and you think He's going to let England and America and the rest of this evil world get by with it? God Almighty has not joined fags in holy wedlock. God no longer keeps America safe. America is doomed. We're getting the pants beat off of us, in Iraq, in Afghanistan.
O'Connor, Geoffrey (Director) and Theroux, Louis (Writer). The Most Hated Family in America April 1, 2007.

God is now America's terrorist, that's who Bush is fighting, that's the terrorist that he best be afraid of. You tweaked His nose, you jackass, you tweaked His nose! God put it in your wicked heart to start that war. That's the message we've got at the funerals of these dead soldiers.
O'Connor, Geoffrey (Director) and Theroux, Louis (Writer). The Most Hated Family in America April 1, 2007.

God duped you into starting a war, so He could punish you. And any preacher preaching it any other way is a lying hell-bound false prophet. So almost eighteen months now and the siege has got people eating their babies, and their small children, and each other! You're gonna eat your babies! God Himself duped Bush into a no-win war, and He did that by the technique of putting a lying spirit in the mouth of all his trusted advisers, to punish America.
O'Connor, Geoffrey (Director) and Theroux, Louis (Writer). The Most Hated Family in America April 1, 2007.

Thank God for the [2004 Asian] tsunami, and thank God that two thousand dead Swedes are fertilizing the ground over there [in Asia]. How many of these two thousand, do you suppose, were fags and dykes? This is how the Lord deals with His enemies. And the Lord has got some enemies. And Sweden heads the list. You filthy Swedes. You filthy Swedes! [Apparently God told Fred that Sweden in is Asia]
Sermon on the Asian tsunami, audio excerpt played in The Chaser's War on Everything

The Lord sent a world-class whopper of a massacre to Virginia Tech, killing thirty-three, drawing headlines like 'Shocked!', 'Horrified!', 'The worst massacre in US history!'. Well, we wish you were thirty-three thousand killed, but we are thankful to our Father for thirty-three.
Virginia Tech Massacre: God's Wrath. Live Leaks Westboro Baptist Church. April 23, 2007.

God hates Australia, land of the sodomite damned! The fag-infested land of Australia is burning. The fire of God's wrath is sending hundreds of those filthy Australian beasts straight to hell! We at Westboro Baptist Church are rejoicing, and we are praying that the dear Lord would burn many more Australians alive!
God Hates Australia. YouTube God Hates Australia. Westboro Baptist Church. February 12, 2009.

Canada is a filthy country run by fags, which has Draconian laws making it a crime to preach the Gospel there. All of these cowardly kissy-poo preachers who telecast their milquetoast sermons into Canada have to edit out every single word critical of fags -- snip, snip, snip -- or the fag officials of Canada will arrest and criminally prosecute the Canadian affiliates, and shut down their stations! There's no freedom of speech in Canada. There's no freedom of religion in Canada. It is against the law to read the Bible in Canada.[Fred's god seems remarkably ignorant and ill-informed about a lot of countries. It's almost as though it knows little about the world outside Topeka, Kansas]
God Hates Canada. YouTube God Hates Canada. Westboro Baptist Church. July 31, 2008.

Our church has had a lot of bad dealings with those demon-possessed Canadians! A big Canadian flag flies at our church upside-down, the international symbol of distress. We fly it day and night, to educate and warn people about the fagi-nazi regime just to the north of us. Canadians are afraid of their tyrannical fag-run government. You can determine for yourself about Canada, and keep as far away from them as you can.
God Hates Canada. YouTube God Hates Canada. Westboro Baptist Church. July 31, 2008.

We warned that WBC has had lots of experience with Ireland's militant sodomite citizenry, steeped for many decades in ignorant, blind idolatrous Catholicism, belching out their vile fagspeak, slander and blasphemy against God and His word.
Sermon about Ireland, July 29, 2007
Letter from UK Border Agency banning WBC from UK

Homosexuals now pervade and control American government at every level and branch. Thus, only those churches that support and promote the militant homosexual agenda enjoy religious freedom. Any church in America that dares to preach what the Bible says about soul-damning, nation-destroying moral filth of the vile homosexual beasts among us, loses all Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and speech rights.
Fred Phelps, in a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, July 5, 1997

We understand that Iraq is the only Muslim state that allows the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to be freely and openly preached on the streets without fear of arrest and prosecution. Alas, the United States no longer allows the Gospel to be freely and openly preached on the streets, because militant sodomites now control our government, and they violently object to the Bible message.
Fred Phelps, in a letter to Saddam Hussein, November 30, 1997

Thank God for the violent shooter... 22-year-old Jared Loughner opened fire outside a Tucson, Arizona grocery store, shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Federal Judge John M. Roll, and sixteen others. At least six are dead and counting. Congress passed three laws against Westboro Baptist Church. Congresswoman Giffords, an avid supporter of sin and baby-killing, was shot for that mischief. A federal judge in Baltimore, part of the massive military community in Maryland and in the District of Columbia, put Westboro Baptist Church on trial for faithful words from God. Federal Judge Roll paid for those sins with his life.
Fred Phelps, on the 2011 Tucson shooting.

Today, mouthy witch Sarah Palin had Representative Giffords in her crosshairs on her website. She quick took it down, however, because she is a cowardly brute like the rest of you. The crosshairs to worry about are God's and he's put you in his and your destruction is upon you. You should have obeyed. This nation of violent murderers is in full rebellion against God. God avenged himself on you today by a marvelous work in Tucson. He sits in the heavens and laughs at you in your affliction. Westboro Baptist Church prays for more shooters, more violent veterans, and more dead. Praise God for his righteous judgments in this Earth. Amen.
Fred Phelps, on the 2011 Tucson shooting.

As they say, feel that Christian love!

submit to reddit

Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations.

Conviction Christians

Zupljanin (left) and Stanisic were found guilty of crimes committed across Bosnia in 1992
BBC News - War crimes court jails Bosnian Serbs:

The civilised world struck another blow for peace and freedom today when the war crimes Tribunal in The Hague upheld the principle that Christians are also bound by the requirement to behave in a civilised manner no matter that their 'faith' gives them an excuse to behave otherwise, when two more genocidal Christian terrorists were convicted and sentenced.

Mico Stanisic was the interior minister of the Bosnian Serb republic ('Republica Srbska') and Stojan Zupljanin was a senior security official. Both men were convicted of crimes against humanity including acts of murder, torture, unlawful detention, deportation and plunder in various parts of Bosnia in 1992 as the took part in a "joint criminal enterprise with the objective to permanently remove non-Serbs from the territory of a planned Serbian state" and were sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Two more Christian terrorist, Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic are still on trial at the ICTY over atrocities committed during the conflict, including the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. Their leader, former Serbian President, Slobodan Milosovic died whilst in custody before completing his trial for genocide.

Golden Dawn Flag
During the faith-based Bosnian conflict, in which Orthodox Serbian Christian gangs of killers sought to eradicate Bosnian Muslims and Catholic Croats, an estimated 100,000 people were murdered. The murder gangs were supplemented and supported by a large contingent of Orthodox Christian volunteers from Greece, many of whom now form the nucleus of the violently right-wing Greek neo-Nazi 'Golden Dawn' political party which enjoys wide support from within the Greek Orthodox Church.

The defence offered was the traditional one of genocidists that they were merely obeying orders and carrying out the lawful instructions of their government. What is not clear is whether the new Pope as head of the Catholic Church, who, when a Cardinal in Argentina was accused of standing by as his government 'disappeared' it's opponents including his own priests, and whether the new pastoral head of the Anglican Communion, aristocratic multi-millionaire Justin Welby, leaders of the two largest Christian denominations, have distanced themselves and their churches from the teaching of St. Paul in this respect.

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil.

Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Romans 13:1-7

St. Paul was perfectly clear on the point: it is the duty of all Christians to obey the instructions of their government because all actions by all governments are always God's will and are always against evil, hence the Bosnian murderers were in fact acting in accordance with a basic Christian principle established by the Church's founder. It remains to be seen whether the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury distance themselves from this traditional genocidists' excuse and side with the forces of civilisation and progress in their attempt to establish the principle that all people are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity even when they disagree with Christians.

'via Blog this'

submit to reddit

Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations.

Friday 22 March 2013

Unintelligently Designed Brain

You have to hand it to the 'Intelligent Designer'; it's never slow to use a complex design when a simple one would do, or an inefficient design when a more efficient one is available. Ironically, the human brain, for all it's complexity and for all the capability it has given to humans, is an example of inefficient design and unnecessary complexity. Far from being an argument for intelligent design, the human brain is, as you would expect of an evolved organ, a wonderful example of unintelligent design.

The brain is basically a biological computer with millions, billions, even, in the case of the human, elephant and dolphin brain, maybe hundreds of billions of neurological connections which act like computer logic gates. Briefly, logic gates perform binary (or Boolean) logic. Normally a logic gate has two inputs and an output so, according to the type of gate, two input signals can be processed to produce a single output signal, which can then form one of the inputs of another logic gate, and so on.

This isn't important to my point and is just for background, but the six most important types of logic gate are:
OR: (C = A or B). C = 1 if either A or B is 1, or if both A and B are 1.
AND: (C = A and B). C = 1 if and only if both A and B are 1.
NOT: (C = not A). C = 1 if A is 0, C = 0 if A is 1. Note: In this case there is no B input.
XOR: (C = A xor B). C = 1 if A or B is 1 but 0 if both are 1.
NOR: (C = A nor B). C = 0 unless A and B are both 0.
NAND: (C = A nand B). C = 1 unless A and B are both 1.
In a modern computer these gates work at nanosecond speeds or faster so that even the computers inside you laptop, ipad or smart phone are capable of millions or billions of calculations per second. They work with tiny electric currents, in other words, electrons moving at the speed of light. The only problem, and one of the limitations of microprocessor power, is that with all that energy exchange going on in such a small space, the heat produced can be enormous, hence the cooling fan, etc.

Computers communicate with their peripheral devices, and with the outside world like the Internet, with electrical signals, again relying on near light speed electrons flowing through conductors. All of the components of a computer and a computer system, and even a vast computer network like the World Wide Web, are perfectly natural materials, of course, just very pure and very precisely ordered, but surely nothing beyond the capability of an omnipotent god.

So, given basically the same engineering problem, how did the 'Intelligent Designer' solve the need for a communications systems and a central processor?

Probably with one of the worst kludges you can imagine. A kludge is design-speak for anything which works well enough, no matter how inefficiently or inelegantly. A sort of "It'll do!", or "Near enough is good enough!" approach to design.

First a little bit about neurones and how a signals are conveyed by a neurones to and from sense organs or from one neurone to another:
A typical neuron is divided into three parts: the soma or cell body, dendrites, and axon. The soma is usually compact; the axon and dendrites are filaments that extrude from it. Dendrites typically branch profusely, getting thinner with each branching, and extending their farthest branches a few hundred micrometres from the soma. The axon leaves the soma at a swelling called the axon hillock, and can extend for great distances, giving rise to hundreds of branches. Unlike dendrites, an axon usually maintains the same diameter as it extends. The soma may give rise to numerous dendrites, but never to more than one axon. Synaptic signals from other neurons are received by the soma and dendrites; signals to other neurons are transmitted by the axon. A typical synapse, then, is a contact between the axon of one neuron and a dendrite or soma of another. Synaptic signals may be excitatory or inhibitory. If the net excitation received by a neuron over a short period of time is large enough, the neuron generates a brief pulse called an action potential, which originates at the soma and propagates rapidly along the axon, activating synapses onto other neurons as it goes.

Action potentials are generated by special types of voltage-gated ion channels embedded in a cell's plasma membrane. These channels are shut when the membrane potential is near the resting potential of the cell, but they rapidly begin to open if the membrane potential increases to a precisely defined threshold value. When the channels open, they allow an inward flow of sodium ions, which changes the electrochemical gradient, which in turn produces a further rise in the membrane potential. This then causes more channels to open, producing a greater electric current, and so on. The process proceeds explosively until all of the available ion channels are open, resulting in a large upswing in the membrane potential. The rapid influx of sodium ions causes the polarity of the plasma membrane to reverse, and the ion channels then rapidly inactivate. As the sodium channels close, sodium ions can no longer enter the neuron, and they are actively transported out of the plasma membrane. Potassium channels are then activated, and there is an outward current of potassium ions, returning the electrochemical gradient to the resting state. After an action potential has occurred, there is a transient negative shift, called the afterhyperpolarization or refractory period, due to additional potassium currents. This is the mechanism that prevents an action potential from travelling back the way it just came.

In animal cells, there are two primary types of action potentials, one type generated by voltage-gated sodium channels, the other by voltage-gated calcium channels. Sodium-based action potentials usually last for under one millisecond, whereas calcium-based action potentials may last for 100 milliseconds or longer. In some types of neurons, slow calcium spikes provide the driving force for a long burst of rapidly emitted sodium spikes. In cardiac muscle cells, on the other hand, an initial fast sodium spike provides a "primer" to provoke the rapid onset of a calcium spike, which then produces muscle contraction.
So, basically, a signal is transmitted along a nerve, not by simply whizzing electrons along a conductor but by a complicated process involving a flow of charged ions across the cell membrane, with this 'wave of depolarization' flowing sedately along the cell membrane, or jumping from one node to another, depending on the fibre, and then having to actively pump the ions back again against a potential gradient, so using energy and during which the nerve is briefly 'refractory' and unable to fire again. The result of this is that signals are processed and propagated through nerves about a million times more slowly than in a modern computer.

Now, when the signal needs to escape from the end of the neurone to activate a muscle, stimulate an excretory cell, or just to be passed on to the next neurone in the sequence, whereas an electrical conductor would just need to be touching at the point of contact, the unintelligent designer has come up with another gloriously complex kludge which works, but which only needs that complexity in the first place because of the solution employed. Consequently it slows transmission down considerably and entails a huge overhead in terms of metabolic input and energy requirement. It is a small gap called a synapse.
Synapses are essential to neuronal function: neurons are cells that are specialized to pass signals to individual target cells, and synapses are the means by which they do so. At a synapse, the plasma membrane of the signal-passing neuron (the presynaptic neuron) comes into close apposition with the membrane of the target (postsynaptic) cell. Both the presynaptic and postsynaptic sites contain extensive arrays of molecular machinery that link the two membranes together and carry out the signaling process. In many synapses, the presynaptic part is located on an axon, but some presynaptic sites are located on a dendrite or soma. Astrocytes also exchange information with the synaptic neurons, responding to synaptic activity and, in turn, regulating neurotransmission.
A couple of problems with synapses are that, apart from it's slowness, a neurone can become depleted of it's transmitter substance and become fatigued and, unless the released transmitter substance is quickly deactivated, the synapse won't be ready for the next signal, so a set of enzymes are needed to deactivated them, all needing to be manufactured and replaced, and all needing energy and adding to the general inefficiency.

Why did evolution 'use' this inefficient, slow and kludgey method? Because it had no choice, not having had any say in the matter. Evolution by natural selection is not a planned process and can only work on what is available. It is also impossible for it to scrap a design and start anew, as an intelligent designer would. Evolution only had cells with which to work and the only way to make a cell 'excitable' is with the flow of charged ions across a membrane. And it worked well enough. Just like the qwerty keyboard on our laptops, smart phones and computer keyboards, we are now stuck with it, with all its inefficiency.

And this has meant that, to evolve a brain large enough to have the processing power to give humans the advantage such a brain gave us once we had evolved a bipedal gait, our babies are born with already large heads, which adds another layer of difficulty to the human birth process, meaning that our babies are born especially under-developed needing a long period of parental care, so creating the conditions and opportunity for evolution by natural selection to evolve human cultures.

Of course, as you would expect, evolution has made do and refined the process of neuro-transmission as well as possible within the limits of what is possible, and even taken advantage of some of the opportunities the system presents, like the ability to have an inhibitory feed-back mechanism to, for example, allow the knee-jerk reflex to fire just once and not continually re-fire as the thigh muscles are stretched again as the lower leg drops back.

And almost unbelievable, this gloriously kluge-ridden, clunky system has, by evolution by natural selection, given rise to a fantastic organ like a brain, but no intelligent designer would have gone about it in that hugely inefficient way when simple conductors, logic gates and light-speed electrical conduction were all readily available to it. The glorious thing about evolution is not always the elegance and simple efficiency of its 'designs', but how it gets there in the end.

Unintelligent design gave us the human brain. The intelligence that made available to us, after 13 billion years of evolution, has allowed us to design a hugely more efficient and faster design called the microprocessor in a little over a hundred years since we understood electricity well enough to make it usable, and so we now have the Internet, where I can find out the information in this blog and present it for you to read.

Share on Twitter.

Even Christians Must Obey The Law

BBC News - 'Ex-gay' London bus advert ban ruled lawful:

Excellent news that the High Court has upheld a Transport for London ban on obnoxious Christian anti-Gay hate messages being displayed on its buses apparently for no other purpose than the gratuitous abuse of a minority.

This ruling confirmed yet again that Christians in England and Wales are not above the law (Scotland has its own legal system and is not bound by this ruling) and may not use their 'faith' as a cover for the bullying of minorities for their own perverse gratification and to artificially enhance their own status at the expense of others. With sexual orientation, just as with skin colour, gender, disability, ethnicity or country of origin, or even hair colour, those who need to feel better about themselves by denigrating others like nothing more than something people cannot change about themselves as an excuse for bullying, because this makes them captive and controlled no less than the bars of a cage do.

The ruling follows a recent trend where the courts have ruled that Christians cannot use their religion as an excuse for committing illegal acts such as denial of goods and services to others, that they are subject to the same laws as normal people, and that hiding behind a cloak of piety does not bring privilege any more.

This is encouraging evidence that the UK is moving increasingly towards a fully secular society and that the repugnant 'morality' of the Bible is increasingly being discarded in favour of Humanist principles, as we build a fair society with equal treatment for all and denial of privilege for the few.

Just as the Bible can no longer be used as an excuse for burning witches and persecuting progressives and non-conformists, so it can no longer be used as an excuse for other uncivilised, antisocial behaviour in England and Wales, and not before time. The Bible is no longer a bullies charter in England and Wales. We can, of course, now expect squeals of indignation and cries of persecution from those sanctimonious bigots who see the right to bully, persecute and deny rights to others in order to elevate themselves above us as one of their precious religious freedoms.

'via Blog this'


submit to reddit

Wednesday 20 March 2013

More Bible Babble

Depiction of the Construction of the Tower of Babel. Unknown German artist c.1370s
Just as with the Adam and Eve, Noah's Flood and the story of the tormenting of Job, the story of the Tower of Babel seems to have been an early folkloric story which was included in the first book of the Bible because it suited the priesthood rather than because it has any real lessons for mankind. There doesn't appear to be any reason an author god would have included these little origin myths and folktales.

If there is a lesson to be found in the Tower of Babel story, then it can only be, "Don't even try looking for the god we are telling you exists, otherwise you'll be for it!" Handy if you're feeling a bit insecure about whether the people are believing the stuff you are telling them or not.

It is obvious from their mutual inconsistencies and contradictions that these tales were slotted in from other sources which were never intended to be bound together into a "book of truth" with no more than a cursory attempt to integrate them into a coherent and consistent whole.

For example, we are told after the Ark story, that Noah's sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, each had several sons who founded in their turn all the nations of Earth, each with their own tongue.

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood...

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations...

These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations...

These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.

These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.

Genesis 10: 1-32

So, that's in about six generations or so... by which time all those nations had been populated from just three men!

And note how these nations had their own tongues (not tongue, singular; tongues, plural). So, that's the Bible's first try at explaining why there are lots of different languages.

Now turn the page, and what do we find?

And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

Genesis 11:1

Clearly, whoever wrote that hadn't read the previous story about how everyone is descended from Noah's sons and spoke lots of different languages.

And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:2-4

And you thought the tale of how all of Noah's descendants spoke different 'tongues' was incredible...

Now we are asked to believe two more incredible things:
  1. That after a few generations one man can produce enough descendants to build a city and then a tower tall enough the 'reach unto Heaven'.
  2. That Heaven, where Yahweh lives, really is up in the sky above the Middle-East and close enough to Earth for it to be possible for people to build a tower up to it.

But that's not all...

And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

We now have to believe that not only does the creator of the universe really lives just above the surface of Earth over the Middle-East, close enough for a tower to be built up to it (otherwise why would Yahweh be concerned and not just bemused at their naivety?) but that he really would concerned about it.

We also have to believe that a god who is all knowing and from whom nothing can be hidden, has to go 'down' to Earth to find out what was going on - and not for the first time either; he had to do the same with Adam and Eve, apparently, and will do it again a bit later on with the 'Cities of the Plain'.

We also have to believe that an omniscient god wouldn't realise that people can and do learn more than one language and thinks that to cooperate we all need to speak the same language; that, contrary to all the evidence, translation and translators don't exist.

Lastly, we need to believe that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent god would want to prevent humanity from achieving its full potential and that it took steps to ensure division and disharmony because it felt threatened by us and was frightened by our developing abilities. Of course, the thought that an omnipotent, creator god could simply move Heaven to somewhere other than a few hundred feet above the Middle-East was out of the question.

Of course, all this going 'up' and 'down' and building a tower 'up' to Heaven all made perfect sense when Earth was flat and the centre of the Universe. If you wanted to show the ignorant scientific illiteracy of a god, what better way than to claim it would write stuff like this, one of the best pieces of evidence going that the author of the Bible could not possibly have created the Universe and far from knowing everything, saw the Universe exactly the way a technologically primitive, pre-wheel Bronze-age pastoralist would have seen it, with Heaven 'up there, above the sky'.

So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

Genesis 11:8-9

So there we have the whole point of the tale. No moral message for mankind; simply another naive folkloric account of how we all came to speak different languages, in complete contradiction to the first version in the immediately preceding chapter. I have shown in Talking Bible Babble how this latter explanation for language diversification, like so many other Bible claims, simply doesn't equate to the observable evidence.

But the faithful are required to be gullible enough to believe this naive, primitive nonsense without any analytical thought, and without question, and they are expected to be proud of their ability to do so. Indeed, believing this stuff 'by faith' is probably the only test they are required to pass to join the Christian club.

We are expected to believe that their credulous gullibility entitles them to make laws for the rest of us, to be consulted on all matters of ethics and morality, to hector, bully and cajole anyone who disagrees with them and brand them as evil, to have a veto on scientific progress and to be free to tell our children that this is absolute truth and that credulous gullibility and belief without question are good things and personal qualities to be admired and held in high esteem.

And they seriously expect to be taken seriously when they confidently pronounce entire bodies of science to be wrong and react with self-righteous indignation when we don't accept their arguments from ignorant incredulity and ask them for supporting evidence..

The proverbial visitor from outer-space would be right to think many people must be suffering from a form of group madness or to have been infected by a virus which turns people into unthinking automatons.

submit to reddit

Sunday 17 March 2013

Sparring With Creationists

1909 Stag at Sharkey'sOne of the most frustrating things about 'debating' with religious fundamentalists and Creationists is that they don't know when they've lost. In all probability this is because they either genuinely didn't follow the debate and failed to realise that your answer destroyed their logic or didn't understand its relevance, or even that they don't understand the rules of debate and the logical principles underpinning it.

It could also be because they simply can't allow themselves to believe that their argument has been refuted because it was such an essential ingredient in their delusion that they know better than science from their position of ignorance.

It puts me in mind of a 1909 painting by George Bellows called Stag At Sharkey's. This painting represent a departure in American art when French Impressionism and the American Hudson River School, which tended to glorify the American West, were both rejected in favour of the realism to be found in the growing urban slums. It was called the Ashcan School because it dealt with life with all it's grime and ugliness and found something noble therein which the artist could depict using techniques formerly used to depict beauty and romanticism, and so show them to be beautiful and valid in their own terms. The Ashcan School, or "The Eight" later became know as "Apostles of Ugliness", so, for all it's brutal ugliness, which is rather the point of the painting, Stag at Sharkey's is an important painting in the history of Western Art.

Stag at Sharkey's depicts a prize fight reminiscent of a 'debate' with a Creationist where they assume the idea of debate is to score points anyway possible with no concern for honesty and truth. Punches below the belt and gouging are okay so long as it gets them out of the corner or off the ropes. For example, lying about something you said a few moments ago, name-calling, threats and insults or deliberately misquoting or misrepresenting something you just said.

Their tactics more resemble a street brawl or a playground scrap while you are trying to get across some logical point, explain a scientific process, correct a false assertion or bring them back to the point they are running away from, or simply explain that they are wrong and where they can go to prove it for themselves. In all probability they haven't even understood the rules and, even if they have, they've assumed they don't apply to them because, being religious they are entitled to special privileges and exemptions.

But the worst part is when you have defeated all their 'points', answered all their 'unanswerable' questions, shown their basic assumptions to be invalid and based on disinformation, or explained how their questions merely highlight their ignorance and that that is not actually what science says, and they simply hit the reset button and ask a question you answered a few moments ago denying having seen your answer, they simply do not understand, or refuse to accept, that they have lost.

The point of a boxing match of course is to knock your opponent out by giving them enough brain damage to ensure they can't stand up for ten seconds or more. However, this presupposes your opponent actually has a brain which can be damaged and that they are able to register the fact that they are on the canvas and have been counted out, and that that constitutes defeat.

This generally works with boxers, no matter how badly their brains have been damaged by previous fights. However, this analogy seems to break down with religious fundamentalists and Creationists who don't seem to have the necessary equipment for knowing they've even been knocked down let alone that they're on the canvas and have been counted out. Instead, like mindless automatons they continue swinging aimlessly and even proclaiming victory, seemingly oblivious of the mirth of the audience, or even the rules of the game they were in.

But, for all their brutal ugliness, there is nothing noble in fundamentalist Creationism. It doesn't represent a departure or a rejection of an old and outdated idea and the beginning of something new and exciting. It represents exactly the opposite - a desperate clinging to the past and a desperate attempt to pull us all back to something far more primitive and brutal and which was rejected by all enlightened, progressive and educated people more than a century ago. It's like comparing the primitive scrawlings of children who can barely hold a pencil with a Monet, a Picasso or a Ken Howard.

Much of it of course is genuinely childish; the product of immature minds developing in a scientifically illiterate, superstitious culture which still believes in magic and demons. A lot of it is also arrogant narcissism by those too lazy to learn, indifferent to truth and honesty but desperate to be thought of as wiser and more profound in their understanding than people who have bothered to learn and who do care about things like truth and honesty.

But there is also a sinister group of Creationists who are trying to overthrow science and especially Darwinian Evolution because they do understand it and understand only too well the threat it represents to their ambition. They intend to use religious superstition to undermine secular democracies and make a grab for power with the introduction of a primitive, brutal, Bronze-age style neo-Fascist theocracy, under their control, naturally, the artistic equivalent of a simple rock drawing and the cultural equivalent of abolishing the last 3000 years of human progress.

submit to reddit

Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations.

Plink! Another Piece Falls Into Place

I love the sound of a penny dropping because it means something else has just been understood. I wish though that a piece of jigsaw puzzle falling into place was a little more onomatopoeic because that would make a better metaphor.

Understanding something anew still gives me that little frisson of pleasure, not quite so thrilling as when I realised that, whilst all religions can't be right, they can certainly all be wrong, but pleasurable nevertheless.

One such little event happened a few minutes ago when I followed the link from a tweet promoting a book and read one of the readers' reviews. The book was Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived by Chip Walter.

To me, one of the puzzles of human evolution was why humans evolved such high intelligence when none of our close relatives outside our immediate ancestral line did to the same degree, and why no other branch on the tree of life has come close to evolving anything like the same level as we have (though very many are probably sentient and even able to hold a conceptual model the world in their brains, but that's s different story).

One of the central ideas in evolution is how natural selection works on the potential for change and how quickly this potential is realised once it occurs. Evolution abounds with examples of a huge burst of diversification whenever a new capability arises by chance, for example, a central nervous system; movement onto land; 'discovery' of flight by insects, then birds; 'invention' of photosynthesis, etc., etc.

Friday 15 March 2013

Top 10 Reasons to Take Pascal's Wager

Blaise Pascal (1623-1672)
Pascal's Wager (or Gambit) basically argues that, since you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from believing in God (Pascal never specified which one), your safest bet is to believe.

Here are the top ten reasons you should play Pascal's Gambit:
  1. Gods are not really all-knowing and don't know what you are thinking, so they won't realise you are just pretending.
  2. Someone told you Pascal's Gambit is a good idea and you just can't be bothered to think through the consequences of it.
  3. The Gambit works on any god, so you don't need to bother which is the real one or even if any of them are. Just talk about 'God' and it'll think you're talking about it.
  4. The Gambit works best on gods which admire dishonesty so chose one which has shown itself to be dishonest and proud of it.
  5. The less intelligent the god the better the Gambit works, so it's best to chose a really thick god although playing the Gambit in the first place shows you think none of them are too bright.
  6. The Gambit assumes you can put one over on the god in question, so chose a god who doesn't mind you thinking you are smarter than it is, or one which is too stupid to realise that you think you are.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Why Feminism.

This blog was written at the invitation of award-winning Bangladeshi writer, physician, secular humanist, radical feminist and human rights campaigner, Taslima Nasreen, and appeared on her blog, in August 2012.

The reason I am a feminist is really quite simple: I am a feminist because I am a Humanist and a Socialist. I am a Humanist and a Socialist because I am a human being and I have a single guiding principle which, like a coin, has two sides:
  1. I am better than no one.
  2. No one is better than me.
No one is endowed with the right to assign status on another at birth. No one has the right to restrict the right of another to make their own choices and to take their own decisions in life. If anyone claims for themselves that right, then, with equal ease, I claim the right to deny them that right.

In the words of John Donne (slightly modified)

No person is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each person's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

To me, Women's liberation was always a part of people's liberation and liberation is about freedom to choose. Socialism can never be achieved whilst half the population remain subjugated, restricted, repressed and dependent on the other half.

How pathetic, how utterly shameful for one half of humanity to try to maintain their privileges with bans and proscriptions on the other half. How pathetic for men to use their physical strength, not to liberate women but to maintain their subjugation.

To me, feminism is not about what women should do but about what they have the right to choose to do. If they choose to be miners or lumberjacks, doctors or architects, lawyers, barristers, engineers, emptiers of rubbish bins, fire-fighters or soldiers, they should be free to make that choice. If they chose to be full-time mothers they should be free to make that choice too but they should also be free to expect their partners to take on that role if that's the right choice for them both.

People liberation cannot be achieved by assigning stereotypical roles and expecting people to fit themselves into those stereotypes. People liberation is about choosing the role you want for yourself in consultation as an equal with others involved in and affected by that choice.

It would be easy to blame religions for the institutionalised misogyny women have suffered for centuries. Though they are undoubtedly now complicit in it's retention in many parts of the world, and especially in the more fundamentalist area where women are required to cover themselves or take the blame for men seeing them as mere sex objects, and even for 'loosing control' and raping or sexually assaulting them (what a grotesquely pathetic abdication of personal responsibility that is!), I'm not convinced religions cause misogyny. I think religions are, at least partly, the product of misogyny. It is surely no coincidence that gods are overwhelmingly seen as male and that the Abrahamic religions have a god which closely resembles a despotic Bronze Age tribal chief.

When the origin myths were being invented and written down, and the early laws were being codified, the people who wrote them were almost certainly high-caste males from already misogynistic cultures and women had already been relegated to chattel status. Even the creation myth of Adam and Eve results in Eve being told her role, and that of all women henceforth, was to satisfy the desires of man with "... and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Genesis 3:16).

Of course a misogynistic male god would put men in charge with the right to rule over women and to have them merely for his convenience. What could be more natural and 'right' than that? In the blog The Evolution Of God I have shown how I think religions could well have evolved out of the pre-human or proto-human social structure with an alpha male leader. It could have been from this evolved dominance and the assumed right to have first access to the females and to control their sexual activity, that both male dominance and an obsessive interest in the sexual activity of others may have developed and entered the human meme-pool. Having invented gods and religion we then handed over responsibility for our moral development to the high priests of these gods, as I argued in Religion: An Abdication Of Moral Responsibility.

Pat Robertson is a multi-millionaire fundamentalist Christian
But, however it evolved, there is no excuse for it now. We are a very different species to that evolving millions of years ago on the plains of East Africa and we have a very different culture now to that of Bronze Age nomadic goat-herders. We have no use for many of the memes they generated or many of the rules they codified.

It used to be said of Britain that 17% of the people controlled 94% of the wealth. We have a long way still to go to rectify that obscene statistic. The women of the world are said to do 90% of the work but to control only 10% of the wealth. That is an even more obscene statistic which no civilised society or fair-minded person should tolerate.

We are free now, to paraphrase Richard Dawkin's, to liberate ourselves from the tyranny of unthinking replicators in our meme pool. We no longer need to check with sanctimonious moralising high priests and wizards in silly dresses whose living depends on maintaining the status quo and who consult their books of magic words and miraculously come up with the answer which always suits them and those they serve.

We are free now to ask if it is right or wrong that half of humanity should still be a lesser people; a subject people subject to the whim and fancy of the other half and to always be at their disposal. And women are free now to decide whether they will continue to accept this abrogation of power and authority or whether they will deny men this right and take their own lives back under their own control and assert the simple slogan:

No man is better than me because I am part of humanity. Until I am free, humanity will not be.

submit to reddit

Income from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

A Human Ring Species?

Neanderthal man
Like many questions in science, support for this ideas or that ebbs and flows according to the latest publication and as more data is added to the balance on one side or the other. Gradually a consensus builds up for one or other opinion. This is no less so for, to me, one of the fascinating questions in the human evolutionary story - where do the Neanderthals fit?

Until recently the argument was over whether they should be classified as a separate species to modern man (Homo sapiens) as H. neanderthalensis or were they merely a Euro-Asian subspecies (H. sapiens neanderthalensis) with modern humans appropriately classified as H. sapiens sapiens. The idea that they may have been directly ancestral to H. sapiens has all but disappeared, except in Creationist parodies of human evolution.

Then just as the picture seems to be clarifying, it can become even more confused by the discovery of something previously unknown and unexpected. True to form, a previously unknown group of hominids living at least 41,000 years ago in eastern Asia was recently discovered. Named the Denisovans, they appear to be close to but distinct from Neanderthals and yielded enough DNA to make an even more intriguing discovery - many ethnic groups in South-east Asia have some Denisovan genes, showing beyond reasonable doubt that Denisovans, while being genetically distinct from H. sapiens, interbred with H. sapiens in South-East Asia.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Holy Roman Farce

The Catholic cardinals - that is those who are one rung below the Pope in the Catholic Church hierarchy - are at this moment sealed in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican to elect/select/choose/have revealed unto them [circle preferred option] a new Pope. This can be a complicated process to follow, so I will try to explain the basic principles.

This election is like no other because they are not, officially, deciding who amongst them is the best person to be Pope but are allowing God to tell them who he has chosen. They don't decide by simple majority voting or even by an agreed majority like seventy-five or ninety percent; it has to be unanimous (but see update below). God sometimes has great difficulty getting his decision through because waiting for everyone to get the message often takes many days. The record is nearly three years ending on 1 September 1271 following the death of Pope Clement IV. During this period three cardinals died and one resigned. In the end, having been sealed in and having had their rations reduced to bread and water, and then the roof having been removed from the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo where they were meeting, to force a decision, the sixteen surviving cardinals chose a sub-committee for God to reveal his message to, and they duly decided God had chosen Theoboldo Visconti to be Pope Gregory X. One can only assume God was having difficulty making Himself heard above the din of political in-fighting, back-stabbing and wheeler-dealing.

And that was with just twenty cardinals.

On this occasion, there are one hundred and fifteen cardinals, some of them not even white, but, because of the 'Viterbo' debacle, they are still sealed in and not allowed out until they have all reached a decisi received God's Word, nor are they allowed to communicate with anyone outside except carefully selected staff who have sworn to never breathe a word to anyone about what went on in the 'Conclave'. Conditions are not quite the same as in Viterbo in 1271 however. They will probably have to make do with something a little more substantial than bread and water and the roof of the Sistine Chapel will remain on - which at least preserves Michaelangelo's paintings. I understand they also have chemical toilets, and, one hopes, some means of washing and getting some laundry done, as an over-ripe cardinal is probably not the most pleasant of things to be close to.

The cardinals have also sworn oaths of secrecy - something which has taken up a good deal of the day - to never reveal what was said by whom or how they or anyone else voted. Some might see a special irony in servants of Jesus swearing an oath, when he told them to do so was a sin, but I expect there is some good theology behind it.

Now, it might seem strange that the Word of God is revealed to the world by ballot but apparently there are secret votes every day, and usually two, until God has managed to get his message through. It seems not to be within God's powers any more to simply speak out of Heaven or appear as a burning bush, or in a whirlwind like he used to be able to.

But, having by this process discovered God's will, something magical happens: the Holy spirit instantaneously enters the chosen person and he becomes infallible (see Understanding Papal Infallibility) and able to act as a bridge or 'pontiff' between this world and Heaven, with a direct line to God on all matter moral and ecumenical, in fact, on all matters, since whether they are ecumenical matters depends on whether the Pope er... God decides they are or not.

This devise of having the Holy Spirit descend instantaneously (which incidentally means it travels faster than light, like kingship does when it passes instantaneously to the heir on the death of the monarch) was made necessary because of a rather strange fact. In theory, this Holy Spirit was given to Simon bar Jonah by Jesus when he nick-named him 'Peter' and said he was going to build his church on him. It is the same magical ingredient that the Pope passes on to the cardinals when he puts his hands on their head, and this in turn is passed on to bishops and ordinary priests and is the magic power they use to turn wafers and wine into Jesus with a few spells and special magic hand movements, so the faithful can eat him. However, because the Pope is either dead or has lost faith and chucked in the towel like Pope Benedict XVI did, there is no one to pass the magic on, so it has to come anew from God - which all renders the legendary 'Peter' redundant when you think about it.

Mind you, there is a lot of doubt about the authenticity of the claim that Jesus gave this magic ability to Peter, what with there being no actual evidence that Jesus ever existed or that he was the son of God with plenipotentiary powers to hand out special magic abilities, and in any case, 'Peter' probably means 'father' (possibly of the Roman sect) from the Greek 'Pater', not 'rock' from the Greek 'Petra' (I wonder how many other religions rely as heavily on misinterpretations as the Christian one seems to) and the high probability that the account in Matthew 16:16-18 was added later to boost the Bishop of Rome's claim to be the top boss of Christianity - a suspicion reinforced by the fact that, read properly with the hindsight of history, Matthew 16 makes Jesus out to be both a false prophet and a foolish man.

Because they are sealed in, their only means of communicating that they have reached a decisi heard God's decision is via the smoke from the chimney of the stove they huddle around to keep themselves warm. If there is no unanimity on the ballot papers, God makes them burn with black smoke (because obviously, what with black being evil, the Satanic ballot paper(s) - the ones where the cardinals who heard Satan not God wrote their preference - burn black). When there are no more Satanic ballot papers, God allows them to burn in a non-racist white way to signify that none of them were evil and the cry goes up from assembled nuns and wannabee cardinals 'Habemus Papa' (We have a Pope, in an archaic tongue even more archaic than the rituals we are now witnessing). Just to be on the safe side however, and just in case "God is sleeping" (© 2013 Pope Benedict XVI), someone thoughtfully puts some special powder in the Sistine Chapel so they can ensure the smoke is white when God's voice has been heard properly and they are all sure it wasn't Satan.

To me, the most outstanding and enjoyable feature of all this pomp and ceremony is the way the entire charade is based on mutual hostility and distrust at the top of the Catholic Church:

  • The only reason they are sealed in is to stop details of deals being passed outside to backers and vested interests for approval and to stop a splinter-group forming and electing their own Pope as they did in 1305 when we ended up with two Popes, one based in Avignon, France and one in Rome. This followed an eight-month deadlocked enclave.
  • The only reason everyone is sworn to secrecy is because they don't want outsiders hearing who voted for who, what was said, what deals were done, what promises were made (and broken), who stabbed who in the back, what arm-twisting went on, and who had what information on others he could use at the right time - while listening attentively for God's decision, obviously.
  • The only reason the ballots are secret and the papers are burned immediately, is because no one wants anyone else to know what deals were reneged on, which loser came closest to winning, who had to be cajoled and bullied into relenting and going along with the majority, or what the price of the last to capitulate was. Like a tennis match, the game isn't over until the final point, then it's winner takes all. And because it was 'unanimous', and because the papers aren't even there to be counted, the evidence having been carefully destroyed, no one can later say, "I told you so!"
So we are now witnessing the senior tier, la crème de la crème of the church which purports to be the font of morality and an example to us all of how a good, upright, God-fearing Christian should behave, locked in a power struggle made necessary because they know better than anyone, knowing as only they do what they did to get where they are, that few if any of them can be trusted further than you can throw them. And who are we to disagree?

And the one who floats to the top of the cesspit gets to be Pope.

[Update 13 March 2013] It seems the conclave now accepts a two-thirds majority and that voting occurs up to four times a day. Presumably, God chooses to ignore the papers with Satanic votes on them when they are below a magic number and allows them to burn with a white smoke. It's reassuring to know that up to one-third of cardinals officially can't hear God's voice but go with Satan instead.

Press reports that the conclave is deadlocked between those who think the Catholic Church needs a radical overhaul from the top down and those who see nothing wrong with things as they are, are obviously mere speculation as no one is allowed to talk to anyone about what is going on because they have sworn an oath, drawn up by that distinguished lawyer, Solomon Binding, not to... allegedly.

[Further update]. In a breach with the tradition that God, with a couple of recent exceptions, normally chooses a white European male from Italy to be the next Pope, this time God chose a white European male from Argentina, the son of Italian immigrants to that country. Rumours of his cosy relationship with the Fascist Junta which ruled Argentina while he was progressing up his chosen career ladder seem to have had little sway with God, just as the Nazi Party membership of his predecessor wasn't considered a bar to him becoming God's official spokesperson.

submit to reddit

Web Analytics