Monday, June 29, 2009

Location of St. Paul's Grave Less Certain than Evolution

Now shut up and eat Jesus.
Some bone fragments inside the purported tomb of St. Paul (aka Saul of Tarsus) have been carbon dated to the general time period of his death. This, according to Pope Benedict XVI,

“…seems to confirm the unanimous and undisputed tradition that these are the mortal remains of the Apostle St. Paul.”

Well, no – they don’t confirm anything. Rather, they’re consistent with the assumption that the remains are those of Saul of Tarsus. They could also be the remains of his neighbor, his papyrus deliveryman or some farmer who happened to die around the same time. It rules out that these were the bones of William Shakespeare, Helen of Troy or any of the billions of people born in the last few hundred years. Of course, since the sarcophagus stands in the Basilica of St. Paul, originally built by Emperor Constantine over the saint's purported grave some 250 years after Paul’s execution, this doesn’t really tell us anything more than we already knew. And the pope would know that if he knew how science worked.

Unfortunately, the head of one of the world’s largest denominations thinks that science should be secondary to faith. Not that this is surprising – it’s the error committed by most faith-based thought, from religions to political philosophies to fads like The Secret and numerology. But science starts with facts and only declares an overarching concept valid if the facts are preponderantly in its favor, and only then on a probationary basis pending any contradictory evidence. Religion and other forms of sloppy thinking start with the overarching concepts, then pick and choose the facts they want to support their idea. One of these ways of thinking has found out more in the last 400 years than the other has done in the last 10,000 – you decide which should trump the other.

So if the pope wants to learn something about religion, he should start by trying to understand science. And if that leads him to understand how religion can be so consistently wrong about so many things for such a long time, then so much the better.

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