News
The Power Of Light Works
July 2019
LightSail 2 is changing its orbit using only the power of sunlight. The Planetary Society announced this week that their LightSail 2 solar sail is working well, and actually raising the orbit of the spacecraft as it travels around the Earth. According to mission managers, they've been able to raise the orbit of the spacecraft by about 2 kilometers at the high point of its orbit. Unfortunately, they'll only be able to go for about a month before the sail dips into the atmosphere at the low point of its orbit and it crashes.
Sci-Fi Writers Include Religion
October 2018
At his appearance at the American Writers Museum in Chicago, John Scalzi said that it is important that science fiction writers include religion in their universes, "When 5 billion people out of 7 billion very strongly have professed religious belief of some sort or another, to ignore it, minimize it or just say it doesn't matter is foolish," he said.
The Hard Sell
Ben S
"Welcome, one and all, to our company, the fastest growing start-up in the entire Mediterranean region. This orientation day is to introduce you to our management and to teach you how to get your sales quotas up to the standard we expect from our sales-force.

"My name is Peter, and I am the CEO of the organisation.

The Hard Sell "First things first. We never refer to the company in that way in front of outsiders. For all the potential buyers out there, we are known as 'The Church' or 'Holy Mother Church'. And we are in the service provision industry. Broadly all enterprises can be divided into primary industries, producing raw materials like iron and food, secondary industries, mainly manufacturing, and service industries.

"No, no, ask questions whenever they occur to you. What's that? OK, for those who didn't hear the question was, "What do service industries do?" Now the answer is simple, we sell our expertise for the convenience of our customers. The farmer literally creates food, he grows it from essentially nothing, and in doing so he provides a primary industry. The shipwright doesn't produce any raw materials at all; he uses his skill to generate a product. This process adds value because a ship is worth more than the pile of lumber from which it is made, and ship building, a secondary industry, survives in that gap between the values, technically called a 'margin'. Now we are a service industry. The best example is an army; we are maintained by society for the benefit of its citizens. Of course, we are a little different from an army, ha, ha!

"Well in lots of ways. We don't issue unif.... erm, OK we do that. We don't demand that you get up early. Except sometimes. Well mostly actually. We pay better, or, actually about the same. OK, I've got one. We expressly forbid camp followers, in fact, most armies positively encourage their men to get with the women, we will kick you out as soon as you look at one.

"Let's just settle down for a minute while they leave, shall we? I don't intend to try talking over that racket. Anyone else going to join the army instead? Good, well at least there'll be plenty of refreshments to go around.

"I see you've decided to stay, sir, excellent. May I ask why? Oh dear. Look I know this seems like a good idea to you, the symmetry has some elegance about it, but you have to fancy girls in order to join up. No, you can't actually look at them, but you have to want to. I know it seems a bit silly. Well actually it goes a bit further than that, technically we have to stone you. To death, yes. I think we can let that slide on this occasion, so if you'll just be on your way, we'll say no more about it.

"A few more leaving eh? OK, now down to business. What do we, the church, sell? We sell eternal life in paradise. That shouldn't be too hard to sell to people, should it? Not only that, the price is essentially whatever the customer can afford. It doesn't need to bankrupt them. All they have to do is agree to join, go through an essentially painless ceremony, give us a steady trickle of cash, and they live forever.

"I'm forty-seven, why do you ask? No, I haven't lived forever yet. No, the forever part doesn't start until after I die. Yes, I can see why that could be a little confusing. No, don't worry, it will all become clear in time. Just to cover the bullet points for now, there's this place called Heaven. After you die you go there if you've been worthy during your life. Yes, it does sound a bit like the tales that funny Viking man told, but Heaven has far fewer blond women serving drinks and a great deal more harps and clouds. No, clouds, people with unfeasibly large feet and red noses are definitely not a feature of Heaven. Anyway, for future reference, the stories the Viking came up with were untrue. OK, I'll try that one more time. We're telling the truth, he's lying. OK, I know his version sounds rather more fun, but because he's lying it doesn't exist. Heaven does exist and he's not going there.

"Yes, harp lessons will be provided for those who can't play. Right, that's a good question. Did everyone hear that? He asked, "What happens to people who don't go to heaven?" They go to Hell instead. No, that isn't the place with the blond women, I told you that doesn't exist. Hell is a place of eternal torment. You still get to live forever but only so they can torture you for longer. I've often thought that myself, definitely a place to avoid. Now in order to avoid going to Hell, you have to go to Heaven. Exactly, that's the point, they give us money and they go to Heaven, if they don't give us money then they go to Hell. We can't make it any easier to sell, people, you'd have to be insane not to take up our offer.

"Ah, yes, you have put your finger on the problem indeed. You're right. There's no way we can prove that this isn't one of those pyramid schemes the Egyptians keep coming up with, you know, where they say, "Build us a pyramid, double-quick, or we'll pull your toes off." It is difficult to prove that Heaven and Hell exists, but fortunately, there's a way out of even having to. You see we've got a god. I know it isn't original. I know the Romans have got lots. No, I don't think Jupiter would beat our god in a fight. Because Jupiter doesn't exist! Our god is called God. No, it isn't a dull name. No, I don't think Conan would be better. I'm not going to institute a suggestions box, he exists and that's what he's called. Anyway, God told us lots of useful things, one of which is that you can't worship anyone else. Because then you'll go to Hell. No, Hell's the bad one, I know this is coming a bit fast. Don't worry, we'll show you plenty of evidence this afternoon that will convince you that God exists.

"Anyway, God also said that if you try to prove that he exists, then you'll go to Hell, so if anyone asks that's the reason. Another thing that God is really big on is sin. He sent his only son down to die for our sins so that we could get into Heaven. No, his son isn't called Son, he's called Jesus. Oh, so you approve of that name, do you? God will be chuffed. Anyway, there are a whole list of sins that will keep you out of Heaven. Er, yes, it's in appendix two of your course notes. Listen carefully here, this bit's important, a very useful selling point. Just because you're a decent sort of person it doesn't mean you get to go to Heaven. Because we're all born sinners. Well, that's a long story; it goes back to before the flood. The flood. Not when Isaac had that new irrigation system installed, this was a real flood, it covered the entire planet. Including Jerusalem. Rome too. Look it covered everything, all right? Even the mountains.

"You don't know what a mountain is. Have you ever been to Syria, you know, where those pale skinned women work? OK, well the tall things that you have to get around on the way are mountains. No, those are Pharisees. I know, Simon, with the hats. Mountains are geographical features, big hills, goats like them. Fine, now you're with me. But the flood covered those right to the top. Anyway, long before the flood, the first ever woman sinned and God decided that all her descendants would carry that sin with them forever more. Now that you mention it, it does sound a bit petulant, doesn't it? Because of this, you have to renounce sin and then be baptised into the church. Basically, baptism means rebirth. You go down to the river and immerse yourself in it then emerge anew into the ways of God.

"Very funny, Simon, you should be in the circus, 'will God cure the ensuing cholera epidemic' indeed. Oh, yes, a question? OK, good one, you've obviously glanced at the sins in the appendix. Everyone, "what is adultery?" No Simon, not seven to ten with good behaviour. Adultery means taking advantage of another man's wife. You what! Oh, you asked your sister in law to wash your clothes for you. No, that isn't adultery. It has to be taking sexual favours. Fine.

"Anyway, I think we've reached a good time to pause for the moment. Simon, stop that. There are drinks and nibbles on the table at the back so if you spend an hour or so reading the notes then we'll reconvene to talk about any other questions you may have afterwards.

"Welcome back. Now the objective of today is partly to familiarise you with the basics of the religion, which is called Christianity by the way, partly to join you up and partly to prepare you for setting out and establishing a community on your own. Now you've got the fundamentals down we'll go outside and you can all be baptised. Simon, I know fundamental can mean arse but mooning me isn't impressing anyone.

"OK, are we all back inside then? I know you're all wet and feeling a bit miserable but remember you're now Christians, that's right, yes. The ones the Romans use as exotic-animal feed. I'm sure I must have mentioned it. God will protect you. Excellent point, Simon, did everyone hear? Simon asked how God can protect us if we can't ask for his help because that would be testing whether or not he exists. Well, you are allowed to pray, in fact, it's pretty essential, particularly on the part of Priests. God will answer the prayers he chooses to. You're allowed to pray because you already know in your heart that he does exist, so you're not testing him, that's the point of the baptism, after going through it, you are convinced of the truth. The truth that God is the only god. No, look you obviously weren't paying attention; we already established that this morning, we all accepted that it was the truth after I showed you all that evidence.

"Now remember you're going out to establish churches all over the place, so introduce the locals gently, don't tell them about the money part at first, just let them think that another shrine to another god is just a bit of insurance, then slowly introduce the money and the no other gods thing. Yes, it is possible that this might provoke a bit of anger, but remember if you're killed you will become a martyr, meaning you get the best seats in Heaven. All right Simon, the best clouds if you prefer. Are there any other questions?

"Look, it's really very simple. We are offering, in exchange for total obedience and some money to get our god, for which there is no proof, and moreover searching for proof is sinful, to let people into an eternal paradise they can't see until they're dead. If they don't cooperate then they will be eternally tortured because God is merciful. It's like falling off a log; they'll be queuing round the village to join up. You know, if people are as stupid as I think they are we could one day have a million followers!

"A billion? Simon, not even dung beetles are that stupid."

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I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
Galileo Galilei