Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Holy chemtrails, Batman!

If there's one thing I've learned from nine years of writing here at Skeptophilia, it's that there is no idea so weird that someone can't alter it so as to make it way weirder.

On Saturday, we looked at the woman in Japan who is convinced that the way to get rid of pesky ghosts is to buy a high-quality air purifier.  This would put ghosts in the same class as indoor air pollutants and that greasy smell left behind when you fry bacon, which is not how I'd like to be remembered by my nearest and dearest.  "Gordon's back!  Turn on the air purifier!" is not what I'd want to hear, if I was a ghost.

But according to a Roman Catholic bishop in Colombia, there's another way to get rid of evil spirits.  Have an airplane fly over and create a "chemtrail"...

... out of holy water.

I'm not making this up, but I kind of wish I was, because I did some repeated headdesks while researching this post while trying to find out if it was actually true or the result of someone trying to trap me (and others) in Poe's Law.  Sadly, it appears that the whole thing is real.  Monsignor Rubén Darío Jaramillo Montoya, bishop of the city of Buenaventura, is distressed by the unpleasant stuff that goes on down in this port city of 340,000 inhabitants.  So far this year there have been 51 murders, says Monsignor Montoya, which is double what occurred during an equal-length time interval last year.  So the only answer is to douse the entire city in holy water, to "take out these demons that are destroying the city's port."

[Image is in the Public Domain]

Amazingly enough, the powers-that-be in Buenaventura are all-in on this idea, and plan on spraying the city on July 13 or 14.   "In Buenaventura we have to get rid of the devil to see if we return the tranquility that the city has lost with so many crimes, acts of corruption with so much evil and drug trafficking that invades our port," a church representative told reporters.

There's no doubt that Buenaventura is kind of a mess.  Besides the murders, which are certainly shocking enough, there's the fact that it's a major hub of the drug trade (especially of cocaine) heading north to the United States.  Efforts by the government to clean the place up have been largely ineffective, and a lot of the city is controlled more by the Cali cartel than it is by law enforcement and elected officials.

On the other hand, mass exorcisms to get rid of crime and drug trafficking have been tried before, and the results were fairly unimpressive.  Back in 2015, Mexican "renowned exorcist" Father José Antonio Fortea organized an "Exorcismo Magno" to evict the demons that were behind all the murders and mayhem and drug trade, and as far as I can tell Mexico is still as dangerous as it ever was.  So as far as I can tell, exorcisms aren't that great a solution to crime and drug trafficking, ranking right behind building a wall to stop the Bad Hombres from getting in.

So sadly, loading up holy water in a crop duster isn't likely to do much, either.  I suppose it falls into the "no harm if it amuses you" department, although it must be said these sorts of "thoughts and prayers"-type solutions are problematic in that they give people the impression that you're doing something when you really aren't.

But that's not going to stop Monsignor Montoya and the rest of the Holy Chemtrails Squad from doing their thing the second week of July.  I'm just as glad I won't be there when it happens.  If I got sprayed with holy water, I'd probably spontaneously combust, which would be unpleasant for me, even if it might be entertaining for any onlookers.


Richard Dawkins is a name that often sets people's teeth on edge.  However, the combative evolutionary biologist, whose no-holds-barred approach to young-Earth creationists has given him a well-deserved reputation for being unequivocally devoted to evidence-based science and an almost-as-well-deserved reputation for being hostile to religion in general, has written a number of books that are must-reads for anyone interested in the history of life on Earth -- The Blind Watchmaker, Unweaving the Rainbow, Climbing Mount Improbable, and (most of all) The Ancestor's Tale.

I recently read a series of essays by Dawkins, collectively called A Devil's Chaplain, and it's well worth checking out, whatever you think of the author's forthrightness.  From the title, I expected a bunch of anti-religious screeds, and I was pleased to see that they were more about science and education, and written in Dawkins's signature lucid, readable style.  They're all good, but a few are sheer brilliance -- his piece, "The Joy of Living Dangerously," about the right way to approach teaching, should be required reading in every teacher-education program in the world, and "The Information Challenge" is an eloquent answer to one of the most persistent claims of creationists and intelligent-design advocates -- that there's no way to "generate new information" in a genome, and thus no way organisms can evolve from less complex forms.

It's an engaging read, and I recommend it even if you don't necessarily agree with Dawkins all the time.  He'll challenge your notions of how science works, and best of all -- he'll make you think.

[If you purchase this book using the image/link below, part of the proceeds will go to support Skeptophilia!]

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