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« Sorcery cannot be solved using Western instruments | Main | Sanguma: A real evil that destroys peace & communities »

20 November 2017

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Sorcery in Melanesia has no boundaries.

In 1980 when the Papua New Guinea Government of Julius Chan answered a call for help from the newly independent country of Vanuatu (formerly the New Hebrides) it was said that the rebel forces led by Jimmy Stevens surrendered when word got around that the PNGDF soldiers were using puri puri (vada in Motu).

Motuan people have told me with great sincerity that Ted Diro, the officer in charge of the PNGDF operation made himself invisible to defeat the rebels.

I've always suspected that evolution works both backwards and forwards Philip.

What we are seeing with the recent outbreaks of sorcery-related killings and violence seems to represent a regression in the development of the societies concerned.

Rather than progressing forward they seem to be busily travelling backwards to the stone age.

It would not be a stretch of the imagination to describe those involved as 'primitive savages'.

A most enlightening comment Ross.

I think that Ross Howard has drawn a slightly wrong inference in relation to my article.

It was not my intention to imply that there was no scientific work done prior to the Renaissance. Ross gives some excellent examples of this.

However, it is fair to say that very little worthwhile science was done during the so-called Dark Ages although these were, as Ross points out, not quite as dark and dismal as we are commonly lead to believe.

That said, there is no question that the rate of scientific investigated began to accelerate rapidly from around 1500 CE, although some argue that 1450 CE is a better nominal starting point.

Where I part company from Ross is in relation to the role of the Catholic Church and organised religion in general.

These were and remain deeply antagonistic to science. Their track record of denying inconvenient scientific truths, actively suppressing knowledge, resistance to change, obfuscation and condemnation of those who dared oppose them speaks for itself.

There is such a huge body of evidence to this effect that it cannot even be adequately summarised.

The supposed truths of any given religion are inherently unprovable by the scientific method and rely upon adherent's faith alone. Consequently, anyone or anything who contradicts the prevailing dogma is quickly labelled as heretical or apostate or an infidel.

Taken to extremes, this results in the sorts of activities that we associate with organisations like Islamic State or, in more distant times, the Catholic Inquisition and their equally appalling Protestant equivalents.

In a PNG context, the activities of self appointed witch hunters are absolutely consistent with the long and dreadful human history of religious zealotry and persecution of "the other".

Religion has no mortgage on this behaviour: just think about the depredations of the Nazis, the Bolsheviks and the Chinese Communists, which are relatively modern examples of the same thing.

Where I entirely agree with Ross is that the current mania for disparaging and casting aspersions upon our western traditions needs urgent correction.

Sure, there is plenty to criticise but there is also much to admire and be grateful for too.

And the fundamental truth is that it was the western world and nowhere else that created the conditions under which the modern world could emerge.

Other cultures, whatever their virtues, did not do this. This is why those cultures have adopted, at least superficially, the forms of western culture if not the values and belief systems that underpin it

In the context of this discussion, sanguma and so-called black magic should be consigned to the dust bin of history where they belong. There is no place for them in the modern world.

Ross Haward gives us an interesting assay, the contract between mythological beliefs of our medieval times and emerging scientific knowledge and discoveries. It is a known fact most scientists, philosophers and theologians and astronomers at that period are Catholic priests and laymen. they have an obligation to go with the church teaching and at the same time have freedom to go further with their scientific discoveries. Most famous are Galileo, Copernicus, and Gregory Mental and George Lamatre. most craters on the moon are named after Jesuits and Franciscans are famous for earth science. you see how Catholic intellectuals involved in scientific revolution.

the question of religion and how world came into being is a mystery of its own but most scientists want to reconcile science and religion. theology is the study of the creator and science is the study of created things. there is no contradiction since theology deals with truth and science deals with facts.

There are so many things that remain in mystery and we cannot fully define non-empirical means to explain events, causes of sickness and death and other happenings.

But scientific knowledge is increasing to benefit human beings and improve our understanding.

There needs to be research on this spiritualism and our belief system that is fixed at the subconscious level.
Sanguma is a complex issue and a dominant belief system that is now a human rights issue because human beings are being murdered and their right to life is taken away.

The psychology of Carl Jung is based on the shadow side of a human person, good and evil co-exist and each supports the other. Para-psychology plays an important role in the horizontal lives of our people, when people believe or have faith that something will happen it does happen.

The role of telepathy or mind power that only a few are gifted with also plays an important role among our people.

We need to do more scientific research for more verification to explain both empirical and non empirical means of explaining the world view. Theology and philosophy also play an important role in explaining our existence, our destiny, and our future.

We should be more educated to do away with witchcraft and sanguma that does not make us progress but regressws us back into our old traditional ways.

The Dark Ages, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, Galileo and Sanguma.

Chris Overland has suggested that the Western world was all superstition and magic until “the Renaissance triggered a scientific revolution.”

He would possibly agree with the British scientist, Sir William Dampier, who had said that scientific thought was “quite foreign to the prevailing mental outlook” of the Scholastics who were enmeshed in a “tangle of astrology, alchemy, magic and theosophy” and were absolutely hostile to experimentalism.

But that is all a myth.

The great scientific achievements of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were the culmination of normal scientific progress made in the universities founded, controlled and staffed by the Catholic Church.

The key to the rise of Western civilization was the pursuit of knowledge. It was the Scholastics who founded the great universities where they formulated and taught the experimental method. They were the ones who launched the rise of Western science.

Universities were set up in Bologna (1088), Paris (1150), Oxford (1167), Palencia (1208), Cambridge (1209) etc.

In their pursuit of knowledge universities esteemed innovation, and they were dominated by empiricism. Writes Marcia L. Colish:

“Altogether, the methodology already in place by the early twelfth century shows the scholastics’ willingness, and readiness, to criticize the foundational documents in their respective fields. More than simply receiving and expanding on the classical and Christian traditions, they set aside ideas of those traditions deemed to have outlived their usefulness.”

Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253) made contributions to optics, physics and tides, and he refuted Aristotle’s theory of the rainbow by realising they were refracted light.

Albert Magnus (1200-1280) was “perhaps the best field botanist of the entire Middle Ages.”

Roger Bacon (1214-1294) is renowned for his Opus Majus. He stressed empiricism as opposed to authority, because “authority has no savor, unless reason for it is given, and it does not give understanding, but belief.” Bacon stressed that theories must be put to further tests of their implications or predictions before they could be regarded as valid.

William of Ockham (1295-1349) recognized that space was a frictionless vacuum.

Nicole d’Oresme (1325-1382) established that the earth turned on its axis, thus giving the illusion that the other heavenly bodies circled the earth.

Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) put the sun in the middle of the solar system and had the earth circling it as one of the planets, although he failed to recognize that the orbits in the solar system were elliptical, not circular. In fact, his famous book ‘On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres’, is wrong except for the placement of the sun in the centre.

The science historian, I. Bernard Cohen noted that “The idea that a Copernican revolution in science occurred goes counter to the evidence…and is an invention of later historians.” Copernicus had simply added another small step forward.

Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University, Steven Shapin, in his book “The Scientific Revolution” commences with the line: “There was no such thing as the Scientific Revolution, and this is a book about it.”

Author Rodney Stark writes, “Just as a group of eighteenth-century philosophers invented the notion of the Dark Ages to discredit Christianity, they labelled their own era the Enlightenment on grounds that religious darkness had finally been dispelled by secular humanism…the superb scientific achievements of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not the work of skeptics, but of very Christian men—at least 60 percent were devout. The era of the Enlightenment is as imaginary as the Dark Ages, both perpetrated by the same people for the same reasons.”

And Isaac Newton famously remarked “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

So what of Galileo? As Stark notes: “What got Galileo in trouble with the Church were not his scientific convictions nearly as much as his arrogant duplicity.”

The Galileo Affair needs to be put into historical context: the Reformation, the Thirty Years War and the Catholic Counter-Reformation were all raging. Protestants were charging Catholics with being unfaithful to the Bible and so “the limits of acceptable theology were being narrowed.”

Pope Urban III who knew and liked Galileo, tried to avoid a conflict between science and theology.

Stark: “Early scientist adopted the tactic of identifying scientific conclusions as hypothetical or mathematical, hence being without direct theological implications. And that was what the Pope asked Galileo to do.”

Was that asking too much? “Given Galileo’s propensity to claim false credit for inventions made by others, such as the telescope, and to have conducted empirical research he probably did not really perform, such as dropping weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it would not seem to have stretched his ethical standards to have gone along with the pope. But to defy the pope in a rather offensive way was quite consistent with Galileo’s ego.”

Galileo had earlier authored a book, “Assayer” which ridiculed the Jesuit mathematician, Orazio Grassi, who had published a study that (correctly) treated comets as small heavenly bodies.

In 1632, Galileo published his “Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems” ostensibly an explanation of tidal phenomena, but about the systems of Ptolemy’s, in which the sun circles the earth, and Copernicus’s wherein the earth circles the sun. The dialogue he employed “allowed Galileo to exploit the traditional ‘straw man’ technique to ridicule his opponents.”

The book caused a stir, and the pope felt betrayed. The whole episode caused “a general crackdown by the Counter-Reformation Church on intellectual freedom that otherwise may never have occurred.” Still, the pope used his power to protect Galileo from any serious punishment.

Stark: “Ironically, much that Galileo presented in the book as correct science was not; his theory of the tides, for example, was nonsense, as Albert Einstein pointed out in his forward to a 1953 translation of Galileo’s notorious book.”

Furthermore, “The judgment against Galileo was partly motivated by efforts on the part of the Church leaders to suppress astrologers—some theologians mistakenly equating the claim that the earth moved with doctrines that fate was ruled by the motion of heavenly bodies.”

Galileo was not some naïve scholar persecuted by ignorant bigots, and he remained deeply religious. And the case does nothing to alter the fact that the rise of science came from the Catholic Church seeking knowledge.

More recently, we should not forget that it was a Belgian Catholic Priest, Georges Lemaitre who proposed what became known as the Big Bang Theory.

Today in our post-Christian era, people would be better occupied trying to correct the deplorable state of their own institutes of higher learning and universities.

Free speech and the Enlightenment values are being repudiated worldwide. Writes the philosopher Roger Scruton:
“Books are struck off the curriculum on the grounds of political correctness; speech codes and counselling services police the language and conduct of both students and teachers; many courses are designed to impart ideological conformity rather than to inspire rational inquiry; and students are often penalized for having drawn some heretical conclusion about leading issues of the day.”

Catholic universities are in a similarly deplorable state. In 1967 a group of Catholic academics declared independence from Church authority, and an attempt by Pope John Paul II in 1990 to reaffirm the Catholic tradition with ‘Ex Corde Ecclesiae’ has been largely ignored.

At Notre Dame and most Catholic campuses students can choose courses on Native American Religions, Buddhism and cults. At the University of San Diego a course on “Gay and Lesbian Voices” will count towards a theology credit. (Can courses on Astrology, Magic and Sanguma be far away?)

At Jesuit Marquette University, Professor John Mc Adams was sacked for standing up for a student who wanted to present an argument in a philosophy class against same-sex marriage and had been prevented from doing so by a lecturer.

The pursuit of knowledge led to the rise of Western Civilization, and it is the repudiation of knowledge that is leading to its decline. The real hard work is to turn around the disasters happening right under our noses, rather than pontificating about myths of yesteryear.


Methodology in “stamped out with maximum force” aligns with pragmatic pressure outlined by Hank Nelson of the period prior to the accomplishment of a usable roadway Buna to Yodda. Typical of reports at end of gavamani patrols “…men had been killed and an unknown number wounded…”

More in changing old ways, according to Nelson, not the imbalance in rifle power, had been in building the road. Men indigenous to competition, “…had the compensation of using steel tools, participating in a new mastery of their environment, and continuing communal rivalry in a novel form.

Unless the story has been misreported, I understand that a 6 year old Enga girl recently was tortured with heated knives in an effort to discover if she had used sorcery to harm someone.

The report says she is the daughter of a woman burned alive at Mount Hagen in 2013 in the belief that she was a witch.

This is an example of the barbaric nonsense that arises when people insist on believing in a fantasy of evil spirits and black magic.

This is a child of six years old! What sort of deranged idiot seriously believes that a child can do harm through black magic?

This behaviour should be stamped out with maximum force.

The British stamped out the hideous practice of suttee in India by the simple expedient of hanging those responsible. A few mass public hangings soon got the message out that such practices had to stop.

Sadly, suttee has made a bit of a comeback of recent times although I understand that the Indian judiciary is using the death sentence in an effort to suppress it once again.

There is no room in the modern world for this crap. It doesn't need any understanding of culture to know authentic bullshit when you see it. Just because something is traditional doesn't make it moral, right or just and this is a case in point.

It is gratifying to see that PM O'Neill and Enga Province Governor Peter Ipitas condemned this behaviour in the strongest possible terms. I quote from the article:

"Let's be clear, sanguma beliefs are absolute rubbish," Mr O'Neill said in a statement.

"In the modern day sanguma is not a real cultural practice, it is false belief and involves the violent abuse and torture of women and girls by pathetic and perverted individuals."

Exactly.

I concur with Phil's comment.

Theology is just a set of beliefs (acceptance that something exists or is true without proof)...viz-a-viz based on feelings and emotions. Its a 'feel good' thing.

We keep believing something we can't see because we want to escape reality or to feel good. Religion plays on a void or vacuum in us to find answers beyond our physical existence.

Sometimes, we come across situations or circumstances and we seek answers beyond our world, that's when we are comforted with the illusion that God (good spirit)or Lucifer (bad spirit)exists.

So who is this God we (PNGians) believe in? And which gods do the Muslims, Hindu, Shinto, etc. believe in? Greeks and Romans had their gods. My ancestors believed in the spirits in trees, rocks, etc.

At least, those spirits could brought the rain, good harvest, lucky charms, etc...then LMS missionaries said my spirits were evil. But their fabled Jesus walked on water. Isn't that Alchemy?

Good and Evil have always existed as positive and negative poles of the same energy. For once how about if we take a leap out of that creation folk story...how do we explain a stones or hair jumping out of one's tummy or removing coins from one's knee?

Maybe this discussion is bigger than those folk stories of Eden, God and Lucifer and all these mumbo-jumbo. How do we even know that God and Lucifer exist unless human minds created it?

Theological question needs theologically logical answer. Hermeneutical questions needs hermeneutically logical answer. Political questions needs politically logical answers. Mathematical questions needs mathematically logical answers, etc. They all have their own logical systems to establish their truths.

To use mathematically logical system to explain or answer a theological question is logically wrong. The question : "Do evil spirits exist?" is a theological question. It needs a theologically logical answer.

I think that when you are dealing with the law and issues like sorcery you have to accept that modern religious beliefs, such as Christianity, have their basis in exactly the same anti-intellectual mumbo-jumbo as sorcery.

Why the law is willing to accept one form of this mumbo-jumbo (Christianity) over another (sorcery) is troubling.

While a witness in court is still allowed to swear on a bible to tell "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" in preference to a simple undertaking to be truthful is a compelling indication of the bias of the law towards the irrational.

The sooner we can get sorcery/religion extricated from the law the better.

I note Lindsay's suggestion that I should prove the non-existence of a supernatural world.

In fact, I have no need to do so. In the world of science and philosophy, the burden of proof lies entirely upon those seeking to assert that something is true. There is no need to "prove the negative".

The challenge for advocates of the supernatural to produce a real, verifiable and replicable body of evidence as to the truth of their beliefs.

This has never been done under controlled conditions or under the eye of sceptics like James Randy, a magician who specialises in exposing the bogus nature of claims to be able to communicate with the dead, divine water and so forth.

Let me state quite unequivocally and emphatically: the supernatural world as conceived by humans does not exist.

This is not to say that science can or will discover everything that is to be known about our universe or that there will not always be unexplained phenomena.

However, the mere existence of unexplained phenomena is not, ipso facto, proof of the supernatural. It just means that we don't know everything and, indeed, probably never will.

That "no existence outside of the imaginations of believers" as a belief put by Chris, is as it were, not recognisable as a lifebuoy (safety device) cast in direction of a person persisting in a torrential tide.

Upon what configuration of neuronal connectiveness, and upon what cohort of readers?

While folk will likely concur with Chris on “healing power of belief” and “placebo effect”, is it not that the two are discrete, the one the input, the other as may be the outcome?

Certainly as invited by Chris, adherents of sorcery thoughts (if not practices) such as Baigona with ‘smoked heart’ alleged as evidence , will need to bring forth verifiable materiality.

No less might it be put, if to be fair, of Chris to prove a view of “no existence” of immateriality?

While I have absolutely no argument with the cogent case Chris presents here, it could be noted that during the introduction and application of Western law to PNG in the colonial era, Australia was still mindful of the effects of local religious and cultural beliefs.

Herein lies an excellent example of the juxtaposition between traditional spiritual and cultural beliefs and the application of impartial law throughout the whole nation.

If the concept of applying modern science to modern law and legislation is demonstrably always playing catch up, and it has as Chris explains over the last 500 years, what methodology is to be used to coerce everyone to accept what can only be demonstrably proven.

Kiaps had an unenviable task of introducing sometimes foreign concepts to those they administered without the means to sometimes effectively prove many of the concepts and science upon which the laws were based. Take just one example, the use of pit latrines and hand washing to prevent diseases caused by say hookworm etc.

To now contemplate a seemingly backward step in undoing all that has been effective in the past would not only seem a retrospective step but may well be attributed to accepting the easiest and laziest way forward without any concern about the inevitable consequences.

In times such as these, the many are often led by the unscrupulous who are only after their own gain at others expense.

I hope that those who thought Robert Mugabe was a good example to follow now see what his people think about him when the fear he created starts to subside. He lived in palaces when his people were starving.

Judge a person on what they do and not what they say.

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