A Swarm of Megastructures

October 15, 2015

The Morning Heresy is your daily digest of news and links relevant to the secular and skeptic communities.      

I don't want to alarm you, but there really does exist a genuine mystery about what is orbiting a star in the Cygnus constellation, and, I'm not even kidding you, one plausible explanation is that it might, might, might, possibly, maybe be evidence, perhaps, of an alien civilization. Here's Ross Andersen at The Atlantic:

Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, is set to publish an alternative interpretation of the light pattern. SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations, by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars. Wright and his co-authors say the unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, technology designed to catch energy from the star. 

Even Phil Plait is jazzed:

This is still a very, very long shot. But again, this isn’t a huge effort costing zillions of dollars [to investigate further]. The effort is minimal, but the payoff could be pretty big. Also, radio observations of the star might prove useful in solving the mystery, even if it’s not aliens. Which, I’ll reiterate, it really likely isn’t. 

Chapman University releases its Survey of American Fears, and among many things finds that 40% of Americans believe in hauntings, 20% believe that aliens have been to Earth, and other stuff like that. 

The U.S. State Department releases its International Religious Freedom Report for 2014, which emphasized a core CFI issue:

People cannot enjoy religious freedom unless they have both the right to express their beliefs freely and change their religion without facing persecution, violence, or discrimination. The threat and enforcement of blasphemy and apostasy laws during the year had a significant impact on the ability of individuals to exercise freedoms of expression and religion and resulted in deaths and imprisonment. 

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who has been in a Pakistan prison since 2010 for a blasphemy conviction, has been placed in solitary confinement, allegedly to protect her from vigilante violence. Meanwhile, she is "vomiting blood ... and was having difficulty walking," according to an anonymous prison official.

Ben Carson says, yeah, we could be approaching the "end of days." But don't worry, he'll always be "shooting for peace." 

Meet Spinolestes xenarthrosus, a mammal that lived 125 million years ago, whose recently discovered fossils have "almost perfectly preserved skin and hair structures fossilized in microscopic detail." 

Kimberly Winston reports on the convening of the Parliament of World Religions, which is for the first time being held in Mormon country. Atheists will also be represented.

The Archbishop of Syndey says it's not too late to make sure Australia doesn't "degenerate into despotism" the way the U.S. has, what with its "secular tyranny" (gay marriage). 

Also in Australia, a homeopath is heavily fined for hawking homeopathic "vaccines." More tyranny!

Two teenage boys, members of the secretive and cultish Word of Life Church in New York state, are savagely beaten by church members (including their own family) for failing to repent their sins, or some such. One of them dies from the injuries. 

Rev. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary encourages Christians to boycott same-sex weddings, even if it involves family or friends.  

Fraidy Reiss writes in the New York Times about an overlooked problem in the U.S.: religions that still encourage child marriages, and the legal loopholes that allow them. 

Montreal judge scolds a Pastafarian who is pressing to be able to wear a colander on her head for her driver's license photo, complaining that she is wasting the court's time and resources. 

Kaila Hale-Stern at io9 rounds up some tales of hauntings that were pretty easily debunked. Including King Tut!  

FFRF's Nonbelief Relief donates $20,000 to Doctors without Borders after the accidental U.S. bombing of their hospital in Afghanistan. 

Oprah's TV network is doing a series on world religions and faith practices. Hmm.  

Quote of the Day:

Dr. David Juurlink of the University of Toronto:

Does Homeopaths Without Borders want donations of money or envelopes that once contained money?  

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