Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 11:10:19 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (After

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Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 11:10:19 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part One) Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn # 130 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/14/96 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part One) In This Issue... * Graduates Won't Have A Prayer In Washington State * "Cyber-Guilt", "Cyber-Salvation" * Life On Mars? An Interview With Frank Zindler (Part One) WASHINGTON STATE TURNS DOWN GRADUATION PRAYER In Washington state, the Attorney General's office has informed legislators that any officially sponsored prayer at public high school graduation ceremonies is unconstitutional. According to AG Christine Gregoire, that information is based on her office's analysis of federal court rulings about prayer and other religious activities during graduation events. She noted that her office had received inquiries from state legislators in southwest Washington; there, a school board in Shelton finally ended a policy of graduation prayer at the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1991, the prayer was challenged, and a superior court ruled that even a "nondenominational" invocation at Yelm High School was a violation of the First Amendment. Groups like the Christian Coalition have been promoting school prayer throughout the state. But the Washington State Constitution is clear in drawing the line between religious exercise and the establishment of religious ritual. Article 1, Section 11 of that state's Constitution declares, "No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment..." *** ROMAN CATHOLICS STILL DON'T WANT ''CYBER-SALVATION'' In 1970, a young producer named George Lucas -- who in just a few years would bring viewers the famous Star Wars Trilogy -- adapted a short piece he had made while a University student into his first full-length motion picture which he titled "THX-1138." This sci-fi production depicted a dystopian future where society had outlawed sex and used drugs to control and manipulate the population. In one bizarre scene, a man known only as THX-1138 who has stopped taking the drugs, seeks comfort from the agonizing symptoms of withdrawal by going into a computerized "confession booth" where he hears the mind-numbing platitudes of a video-priest. Absurd? Maybe not, at least for a group in Cologne, Germany known as the Lazarus Society. The group is marketing a "Confession by Computer" program on disc, which allows sinners to choose from a list of 200 sins. According to Reuter news service, the promotional literature informs users: "As soon as the sin is selected on the basis of the Ten Commandments, the computer searches out an appropriate penance," which includes an on-screen or audio presentation of prayers like the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary." The developer of the "Confession by Computer" disc is quite serious about the project, and insists that it was developed "with the help of theologians." The program also offers what might be termed theological plug-ins, such as a selection of different prayers and texts of Protestant and Catholic versions of the mass. The General Conference of Bishops, though, doesn't approve of the cyber-salvation disc which sells for the equivalent of about $52. A spokesman told Reuter that "This does not conform to the Catholic understanding of confession," adding that "You cannot have sins forgiven by the push of a button." Well, not yet anyway! Indeed, the metaphysical and religious implications of the "Confession by Computer" disc are fascinating. Televangelists for years have claimed that they can send "healing powers" presumably through the airwaves and cable systems to their viewers, or even read their thoughts and needs. ("I see a woman in Des Moines who's plagued with Arthur-Itis!!! Send a donation! Be Heeeealed!!!) And the Pope has "blessed" audiences over the television when there are over-flow crowds who are hearded into auditoriums to watch papal spectacles on the tube. The "technology interface" between blesser-and-blessee may not be that tenuous. The fact that this idea is even seriously proposed shows not only how life immitates fiction, but how serious theology can even imitate humor and jest. Several years ago, the American Atheists chapter in San Diego supplemented its cable TV program with a series of "spoof" ads, one of which advertised the "Sin Card -- Never Leave Home Without It." The "Sin Card" automatically deducted monies from a "sinner's" account in the course of a month, presumably as penalty for transgressions. Computerized confession and salvation -- or even confession-salvation in the flesh -- isn't that great a "leap of faith" for credulous believers! ** LIFE ON MARS? AN INTERVIEW WITH FRANK ZINDLER Ever since word was released by NASA that a team of scientists had found compelling evidence for the existence of life on Mars in the remains of the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite sample, social commentators and theologians have been debating the implications of this for human culture. The religious response to the discovery has been mixed: fundamentalists have tended to reject the claim, while other religious groups such as Roman Catholics and Muslims have proven more receptive. But how good is the evidence of fossil remains? We put that that question, and others, to American Atheists Science Advisor Frank Zindler, a nationally-known expert and spokesman in the creationism-evolution debate. Mr. Zindler also serves as Editor of the American Atheist Magazine and Newsletter, and is the new Director of American Atheist Press. ---- AANEWS: Based on what you've learned so far, how good is the evidence for fossil remains from Mars in this piece of meteoritic material? ZINDLER: It's problematic at several levels. Perhaps the weakest link in my mind, is the proof that the meteorite did in fact come from Mars. Although the micropaleontologist William Schopf -- overall a skeptic on the Martian fossil question -- rated the probability of this as being 9 on a scale of 10, I'm less sanguine. I do not remember clearly what the evidence for this was when the paper(s) came out in SCIENCE several years ago. I remember only that I was not fully convinced of the Martian provenience after reading about the Antarctic meteorites. In general, the evidence would have to be an isotopic "signature" of some sort that would be reliable planet-wide. Certainly, rocks differ in their isotopic compositions from one place to another on earth, and so it should be on Mars also. The possibility that small volumes of Martian atmosphere became trapped in the meteorite and were brought to earth cannot be ruled out, however; and it could supposed than an atmopsheric isotopic signature WOULD be valid for an entire planet unless one were sampling volcanic out-gasing plumes! It's reported that there are indeed atmospheric gases trapped inside ALH84001, and that they match those sampled in the Martian atmosphere in 1976. We must suppose that the Martian atmosphere evolves and that its isotopic signature has changed over billions of years. Whether it changes significantly over millions of years, however, is unclear, and it is possible that 15 or 16 million years ago (when the meteorite is supposed to have been blasted off the surface of The Red Planet) the atmosphere was substantially the same as it is today. When atmospheric gases become trapped in the rock, however, is unclear and it could be a holdover from truly primal times. If so, I would take that as evidence AGAINST the Martian provenience of our specimen. That is, although some other place may have had an atmosphere billions of years ago resembling the current atmosphere of Mars, because Mars' atmosphere must have evolved greatly over the eons, its ancient atmosphere must have been different from the current one. You also have to remember that once upon a time Mars had quite a lot of water. Where did it go? While some may have become trapped beneath the Martian crust and under the dri-ice icecap, most of it has been lost, I believe, by photolysis of waster molecules in the upper atmosphere of the planet. Because Mars is so much smaller than Earth, its gravitational strength is much less, and hydrogen is more easily lost from the planet. So, when water is broken up into hydrogen and oxygen, the hydrogen flies off into space, leaving the oxygen to diffuse down to the planet's surface to oxidize the minerals thereon. As water has disappeared from Mars, the planet has progressively rused. So much oxygen has been produced over the eons that the planet has not just been oxidized, it's been peroxidized. All this can be taken to indicate that the present hostile environment of Mars is probably not representative of the earlier history of the planet, when it much have been much more hospitable to the presence of life. The presence of organic chemicals in the meteorite isn't very convincing to me, since all the substances found have been found in other meteorites and can be considered primordial chemicals rather than the products of living systems. But at the same time, I must admit that the COMBINATION of the various chemicals and minerals is highly suggestive of a biotic origin. The one nagging doubt I have in this area springs from the fact that so far I have seen no evidence that the surface on which the alleged microbes have been found shows any signs of weathering. How microbes could live on a surface without that surface underoing changes recognizable as weather is a question needing to be answered. Finally, pseudofossils are very well known here on earth, and are the bane of every beginning geologist and every practicing creationist. I have found mineral formations that looked incredibly similar to certain types or corals. But it has been shown conclusively that these objects are not of biotic origin. I've also found concretions that looked like giant doughnuts, hammerheads, and the coastal outline of Antarctica. Creationists find "human footprints" and other fanciful objects formed in stone. And there's the infamous Eozoon canadense -- an alleged microfossil that fooled people for so long that when it was shown not be a real fossil it became almost impossible for anyone to believe that the real microfossils found by William Schopf and others were in fact genuine. While the Mars "microbes" are indeed suggestive of fossil life, cross-sections must be obtained to see if there is any internal structure that can corroborate the external evidence. (To Be Continued... End Of Part One) *** AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For more information about American Atheists, send e-mail to, and include your name and postal address. You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to: and put "info aanews" in the message body, minus the quotation marks. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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