Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 11:10:19 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (After
Date: Wed, 14 Aug 1996 11:10:19 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 14, 1996 (Afternoon Edition ~ Part One)
Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
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
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
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