Monday, October 23, 2006

Pope’s Remarks at University Still Controversial Despite Apology

the pope visits australia.  photo by sam herd.  image hosted on flickr.
pope benedict at richmond raaf base in australia, 2008 [photo credit: sam herd]

VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict apologized Sunday for his caustic remarks delivered at a Catholic university in Rome the day before.

“I am deeply sorry if any members of the scientific community, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise, were offended by my statements yesterday,” Pope Benedict said earlier today. “It was never my intention to suggest that space travel should end.”

Despite his remarks, protests continued to rage throughout the Middle East and Europe.

While speaking to an audience of scholars and students on Saturday, the Pope recounted the mythical tale of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun on wings of wax and ultimately fell to his demise.

"Letting yourself be seduced by discovery without paying attention to the criteria of a deeper vision could lead to the drama the myth speaks of,” he told the Pontifical Lateranense University at the inauguration of a new academic year.

His allusion to the myth was misunderstood as a warning to the scientific community to focus its attentions on earthbound pursuits—to literally stay away from the sun.

Violent Response to Remarks

Physicists and astronomers worldwide were quick to register their outrage, the form of which has ranged from statements of protest to violent rioting and looting.

In one incident, rogue astronomers seized the Gemini Science Center and, inspired by Archimedes, transformed the two large telescopes there into massive heat rays, setting fire to the historic Missions along the coast of California.

Elsewhere, protests turned deadly. French astronomers from the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) beat and killed a Catholic nun, and then resurrected her using stem cells and a stick of wintermint gum. Later, they were joined by colleagues working in other areas of science, who ostentatiously turned water into wine and back again using newly developed bacterial agents and then flaunted their ability to clone fish and loaves of bread.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) immediately convened an emergency assembly to pass a special resolution condemning the Pope’s comments. “His statements are offensive and hurt the sentiments of astronomers and physicists,” the resolution said.

“This body demands that the Pope retract his remarks in the interest of harmony between our faiths. Believing that nothing exists save the uncaring mechanisms of pure determinism, and committing ourselves to hunting those mechanisms down and exposing them to the masses who rely on mystery to give them reason to hope to change their world by enacting their individual wills, is our God-given right.”

Meanwhile, in a joint statement, the American Astronomer’s Society (AAS), NASA, Jet Propulsion Labs (JPL), and the European Space Agency (ESA) condemned the violence, but expressed hope that the Pope would reconsider his comments.

“While we strongly condemn his remarks, we know that he has misunderstood our aims and intentions,” the statement said. “We have never expressed a desire to visit the sun. Far from it. In fact, our doctrine in no way endorses any travel to the sun or any other solar body, anywhere. Nor do we wish to remove the role that faith plays in human life.”

“All we want to do is diminish that role, little by little, over time, the way water slowly erodes a mountain, leaving a tiny nub of rock. A process, by the way, that we can explain.”

Muslim World Reacts to Pope

Pressure on the Vatican to rescind the Pope’s remarks increased early Monday morning as reports flooded out of the Middle East of vandalism and arson.

A spokesperson for the Sunni militias in Iraq rejected the Pope’s apology, stating that his Sunday address “does not amount to an apology because he said that scientists had misunderstood his speech.”

Acts of vandalism were condoned by a joint statement issued by the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), out of Tehran, and the Supreme Leader of Iran the Ayatolla Ali Khamenei, who warned Muslims that this was the “latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by America’s Bush.”

"By referencing the mythology of the Greeks, the Pope of the Vatican has invoked the bloody conquests of Alexander, the infidel who waged war on our people centuries ago,” the ISA Khamenei said. “He was the forefather of the forefathers of the new Zionist-American crusade, the bloody evil streaming forth from America’s Bush. Our people once commanded unparalleled knowledge of the cosmos of Allah, and now these forces have allied again to blind us, to drape a cloth across our faces so that we cannot speak, or learn, or fulfill our hopes and dreams, as Allah commands us to do to our women.”

“Wipe up your evil, America’s Bush; it is unholy.”

The ISA is feverishly developing technologies of space flight in order to become a player on the world stage and fears that the Pope’s statements are part of the United Nation’s efforts to stymie its nuclear ambitions. Iran insists that its ambitions to build and launch its own satellites are driven by the need to monitor natural disasters like earthquakes and troop movements, two disasters to which it is already, or will soon be, prone.

Last year, Iran signed a $132 million deal with a Russian company to build a telecommunications satellite; China also has a deal with Iran, and Thailand, to develop a satellite.

Roskosmos (the Russian Space Agency) and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) responded to the ISA Khamenei’s words later on Monday. “People of Planet Earth,” they said in a joint statement, “remember that anything the followers of Islam do in response to something you said or did is your fault. If nuns get killed, remember that Allah wills it, and besides, you brought it upon yourselves; if places of worship or learning are destroyed, remember that the days when your governments would protect your freedom to say or to publish your opinions will soon be in the past.”

Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s population, including notable physicists, chemists, Christians, and Muslims, were shocked and confused by the outrage over what seemed to be nothing.

“People who act in the name of science should try to respect the mysteries of our universe," said an average person Monday.

“Some of them are so caught up in the effort to uncover the mechanisms that drive the motions of the natural world, that they can't see the beauty of the human soul.”

“We’re working on seeing it,” said a spokesperson for the Human Genome Project. “We expect to be able to see the human soul in about two years, then we figure we’ll be able to take it apart and put it back together, maybe learn how to make it power a small electric motor by 2015.”

“If we can dismantle it, replicate it, make a pill out of it, and sell it back to you for 50 times what it costs us to make it, then by God, we’re gonna do it.”

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