Saturday, June 19, 2010

Church and Science: the battle begins

(continued from Science Vs. Religion)

Must scientific and religious viewpoints collide, or can there be consistent description of the universe in which each is equally valid? To answer this question, let’s start by exploring the origin of this rivalry. 

In ancient Rome, Christianity was a persecuted secret society, and it was not uncommon for emperors to turn the people against the Christians at times of trouble. But when in the year 310, General Constantine, divinely inspired to take the cross as his standard, won the battle against general Maxentius – the battle that made him the emperor – he pronounced Christianity to be the religion of Rome. It didn’t take long before the persecuted Christian minority had gained enough power to start persecuting others. 

In 385, Priscillian, a Christian theologists, won his place in history for being the first Christian executed by the Christian authorities. The Church sentenced Priscillian, with six of his companions, to death for heresy: that is, for not following the official line of the Church. For centuries to come, his execution set the stage for how the Church dealt with any of its subjects who questioned its teachings. 

By the early Middle Ages, the Church, which had continued to consolidate its power, had established itself as the spiritual leader of the “civilized world”, and often as the political and economical superpower, successfully challenging rulers and states. 

To strengthen its authority further, the Church positioned itself as the custodian of all truth, which it alone was authorized to expound under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It actively eliminated any challenge to its teachings by allowing only the officially correct views of nature and scripture; and in 1231 it established the Inquisition to maintain and defend the integrity of the faith, and to examine and forbid errors and false doctrines. 

Heretics became the enemy of society. 

In the beginning, interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures formed the foundation for the science of the Church. However, whenever the Church council adopted a new philosophy – even those philosophies that were originally banned – it became an inseparable part of the Holy Teachings, impossible to question or challenge. 

I often wonder how many of those who strongly believe that their religious views make them good believers, realize that not so long ago, the same institutions that promote their current ‘good believer’ views, would have put them on the stake for the very same beliefs.

(to be continued)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Science vs. Religion -- the real question

In the outer rim of a 200 billion stars galaxy, a blue planet, earth, is traveling at a staggering speed of over 100,000 kilometers per hour. It would have disappeared in the vastness of space, if it were not for a mysterious and invisible force of gravity that keeps it orbiting, for all eternities, round a medium-size yellow sun, 150 million kilometers away. 

Every 176 years, four other planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, are lined up on the same side of the sun. This was not known to the ancient astronomers and astrologers, whose picture of the universe did not include Uranus (discovered in 1781) and Neptune (discovered in 1846). This fact, however, inspired the farthest exploration in the history of humankind, when in 1977 two spacecrafts, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, were launched to reach the aligned planets. The extraordinary photos they beamed back, and the new information they are still sending from the final frontier of our solar system, some 15 billion kilometers from home, have made this exploration a great triumph of science and our understanding of the laws of nature, without which none of this could have been achieved. 

These laws of nature: the principles of motion, action and reaction and gravity, are the very laws that started the age of scientific exploration and changed our understanding of nature forever. Although this new worldview did not directly contradict the principles of faith, it did threaten the monopoly the religious authorities enjoyed as the guardians of all knowledge, as declared, for instance, in the Council of Trent (1546): 

No one relying on his own judgment and distorting the Sacred Scriptures according to his own conception shall dare to interpret them contrary to that sense which Holy Mother Church, to whom it belongs to judge their true sense and meaning, has held or does hold, or even to interpret them contrary to the unanimous agreement of the Fathers. 

This powerful position was not to be given away without a fight; so rather than choosing to become the patrons of the sciences and embracing the new discoveries in order to strengthen faith and belief, the Church and its judicial institution, the Inquisition, chose to declare the new worldview heresy and its holders heretics. 

The birth of modern science into this environment still influences our way of thinking nowadays, nearly 500 years later. Because, while only esoteric minorities will not embrace the many improvements that only science could bring (medicine, transportation, communication, to name just a few) many still view the scientific worldview to be a threat to their beliefs. 

Is it a real threat? Must scientific and religious viewpoints collide, or can there be consistent description of the universe in which each is equally valid? These are deep philosophical questions that have been discussed for generations by religious people, scientists and philosophers. But whatever philosophical conclusions they may reach, for most of us, the real question is whether we, a society empowered by science-born technology, can afford to run our society on ancients principles devised far before the knowledge to create this technology was even conceived. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Media: The War Israel Has Lost

The Middle-East war is fought in many fronts. While Israel has maintained its militarily superiority,  it’s been continuously defeated on the PR and Media fronts, which it tends to neglect.  The way the recent flotilla event was conducted PR-wise, is merely the tip of the iceberg of Israel inability to comprehend the importance of International Media and PR as a legitimate warfare strategy.  In this case, for instance, assuming that Israel needs to maintain the siege on Gaza, let’s see how it could have conducted a Media-savvy operation.

1.       In the months prior to the flotilla voyage, Israel could have preempted and published the identity of those passengers with links to Al-Qaeda and Hamas.  This would have made it apparent that the intentions of the Flotilla passengers were not necessarily peaceful.  It would have also made some of the genuine humanitarian activists on board reconsider the trip, as I believe that many of them were unaware of the terrorist affiliation of their crew mates.
2.       When the Flotilla neared Israeli water, all communication with the ship should have become public.  This would have made the non confrontational alternatives known. That is, that Israel didn’t object to the transportation of the humanitarian aid, and that the flotilla was welcomed to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where it would be inspected, and the cargo, accompanied by some of the flotilla’s members, would be shipped to Gaza by land. It would have also made it clear that sending in troops, was the last option, only after every other compromise had been declined by the ship.
3.       The preparation of the Flotilla passengers for violent confrontation should have also been broadcasted live, before the commando boarded the ship. After all, Israeli helicopters were flying above the ship and could easily have broadcast the violent intentions of the passengers.
4.       The Israeli commandos themselves should have made it visibly media-clear that their guns were paint-guns rather than real ones. Trying to fix the wrong perception after the event, once the public had made their mind, was predictably ineffective.

The result of confrontation with the Israeli professional army was known in advance. This leaves us to believe that the purpose of the confrontation was to be defeated, and thus score another win on the PR front. This is a war that Israel has been neglecting for too long, and must master, at least as much as it has mastered the military front. 

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A naive question about Israel, Gaza and hypocrisy

The Israeli attack on the flotilla to Gaza has heated up emotions around the globe. But leaving emotions aside, the Gaza situation raises many question. 

The first one that comes to mind, is about the siege itself.  Because, while Israel is condemned for the marine siege of Gaza, a territory from which thousands of rockets have been launched onto Israel cities, Gaza has another border, a border with Egypt. Rafah is the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza. However, except for a few short periods, the crossing has been closed since 2007. 

Egypt, a country of brothers to the Palestinians, has stopped any access to Gaza. Do they have a reason that Israel doesn’t? Why don’t we see attempts to break the into Gaza through the Egyptian border? Why aren’t they condemned