Blow the Mind: Hammer of the Witches

Imagine a half million corpses -- mostly women -- piled high on a pyre. Imagine an age of social turmoil, spiritual crisis and technological revolution. Imagine an age in which children as young as seven were executed for the crime of demonic copulation. It's difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of our 15th century predecessors. Witchcraft trials and witch persecutions have become a part of our shared mythology and history, but what truly went on during those centuries of brutal torture and death? In this episode of Stuff to Blow Your Mind, Julie and I look at some compelling theories to why so many men, children and especially women suffered at the hands of superstitious religious persecution.

Should NASA fake an interplanetary holy war?

Neil deGrasse Tyson is probably the last person to suggest NASA falsify the threat of alien invasion to play on humanity's fears. I also doubt he'd suggest that the space agency exploit America's religious conservative movement with "proof" that said aliens are governed by demons. But just for the sake of argument, let's you and I go there.

Atheism, Fundamentalism and Possibilianism

Is there a God? Did some unimaginable divine hand set the course of human events or does it all boil down to a genetic mandate of propagation? Do you lay your offerings before the strict, atheistic machinations of science or at the feet of a patriarchal deity? I think a lot of us would opt for a third answer, a middle path of open-mindedness between the extremes of religious fundamentalism and strict atheism -- and that's why the concept of possibilianism is so attractive.

Science and Religion: Two Shades of Why

Yesterday I blogged about Vatican astronomer Guy J. Consolmagno's thoughts on the relationship between science and religion -- and the conflict that sometimes emerges there. I thought the planetary scientists turned Jesuit brother presented a very positive, thought-provoking view on the matter. But in the interest of providing another take less rooted in Western monotheism, I thought we'd turn to Varadaraja V. Raman.

Can science and religion coexist?

My friend Bill made an interesting statement on Twitter today: "Maybe we can cut a deal where all the biologists can believe in God in return for evangelicals believing in evolution." This was particularly amusing because I attended a lecture last night by a man who was taught evolution by nuns and who studies meteorites while wearing a clerical collar. American research astronomer Guy J. Consolmagno spoke at Agnes Scott College last night on the ethics of exploration and planetary astronomy (see my post at Discovery Space). He also happens to be a Jesuit brother and a planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory.

The Laws of Science (and Faith)

Devout environmentalism is now tantamount to religious conviction -- in British law at least. No, the UK hasn't made a mass return to its Druidical past, enshrining the cycles of the moon in law or worshipping sun gods with parabolic solar collectors. But the employment laws that protect religious freedom have been extended to include the belief in man-made climate change.

Can I pay a robot to say a quantum prayer for me?

If quantum theory holds true and ceasing to believe in something can keep it from happening, then couldn't enough belief steer us toward a future we want? Better yet, can't we just bribe a few robots to pray us into a better, alternate reality? The answers may astound and confuse you.

How Your Brain Talks to God

Let's tread into controversial territory, shall we? If you believe a recent study from the National Institutes of Health, then your belief in God isn't all that special -- at least from a neurological standpoint. Researchers recently hooked 40 test subjects up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) equipment and quizzed them about their beliefs, doubts and quandaries over the existence of a higher power, according to a story from NPR. This is the same technology that allows us to see what sections of the brain light up when we, say, contemplate the idea of beauty.