Archive for August, 2013

CIA Kept Area 51 Secret Because Rumors Cooler Than Reality

Kelsey D. Atherton
[Australian Popular Science gives credence to what we’ve repeatedly inferred, that conspiracy theories are frequently employed as a style of propaganda. In this case, fabricated UFO and Alien conspiracies employed as a cover for real, but secret military experiments. As noted on this site previously, conspiracy theorists were the most prominent dupes and disseminators of crackpot, anti-American propaganda entirely fabricated by the Kremlin, for instance manufactured anti- American AIDS conspiracies as well anti-US, Kremlin invented JFK conspiracies.]
<strong>A Pair Of U-2 Spyplanes</strong> One the left is an original U-2, with an 80 feet wingspan, and on the right is a U-2R with a wingspan of 103 feet.
A Pair Of U-2 Spyplanes One the left is an original U-2, with an 80 feet wingspan, and on the right is a U-2R with a wingspan of 103 feet.
IMAGE BY Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday the CIA declassified a 400-page document about Area 51, the secret facility in the Nevada desert that has fascinated armchair historians and tormented conspiracy theorists for decades.

The site, about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas, has been associated with a number of legends and rumors: about strange aircraft, experimental weapons, weather control, and especially aliens. So many alien conspiracy theories.

Area 51, it turns out, was just test site that housed spy planes, most notably the U-2. Introduced in 1957, the U-2 could travel as far as 7,000 miles, at an altitude of 70,000 feet, and stay airborne for up to 12 hours. U-2s are still in service with the U.S. Air Force today, and the old film cameras have been replaced U-2s used to carry have been replaced by digital cameras. In fact, some public land has weird, barcode-like patterns on it, built for U-2 camera tests.

Why is the CIA involved? Before spy satellites, U-2s flew over the Soviet Union to collect information about the USSR’s nuclear program. This was intelligence by airplane, conducted secretly and with huge consequences on the international stage. In 1960, a U-2 was shot down by Russia, spoiling a diplomatic meeting and escalating Cold War tensions. Later, in 1962, a U-2 took photos of what looked like preparations for nuclear weapons in Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is all old history by now, but when the CIA first classified the U-2 program and chose to keep Area 51 a secret, it was state-of-the-art technology, and an incredibly important test site for collecting secrets.

The declassification of the CIA’s documents won’t deter any conspiracy theorists; the kind of person who thinks the government creates weather machines for mind control will have no qualms believing the government also falsifies documents to cover up evidence of the same.

Nigel Barber

Biopsychologist; Blogger, Psychology Today’s ‘The Human Beast’

Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038

Countries with the best standard of living are turning atheist. That shift offers a glimpse into the world’s future.

Religious people are annoyed by claims that belief in God will go the way of horse transportation, and for much the same reason, specifically an improved standard of living.

The view that religious belief will give way to atheism is known as the secularization thesis.  The specific version that I favor (1) is known as the existential security hypothesis.  The basic idea is that as people become more affluent, they are less worried about lacking for basic necessities, or dying early from violence or disease.  In other words they are secure in their own existence.  They do not feel the need to appeal to supernatural entities to calm their fears and insecurities.

The notion that improving living conditions are associated with a decline in religion is supported by a mountain of evidence (1,2,3).

That does not prevent some serious scholars, like political scientist Eric Kaufmann (4), from making the opposite case that religious fundamentalists will outbreed the rest of us.  Yet, noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve.

Moreover, as religious fundamentalists become economically integrated, young women go to work and produce smaller families, as is currently happening for Utah’s Mormons.

The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth.  This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.  In deriving this estimate, I used the nine most godless countries as my touchstone (excluding Estonia as a formerly communist country).

The countries were Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.  These nine countries averaged out at the atheist transition in 2004 (5) with exactly half of the populations disbelieving in God.   Their gross domestic product (GDP) averaged $29,822 compared to $10,855 for the average country in the world.  How long will it take before the world economy has expanded sufficiently that the GDP of the average country has caught up to the average for the godless countries in 2004?
Using the average global growth rate of GDP for the past 30 years of 3.33 percent (based on International Monetary Fund data from their website), the atheist transition would occur in 2035.

Belief in God is not the only relevant measure of religion, of course.  A person might believe in God in a fairly superficial way without religion affecting his or her daily life.  One way of assessing the depth of religious commitment is to ask survey participants whether they think that religion is important in their daily lives as the Gallup Organization has done in worldwide nationally representative surveys.

If fewer than 50 percent of the population agreed that religion was important to them, then the country has effectively crossed over to a secular majority.  The godless countries by religiosity were Spain, South Korea, Canada, Switzerland, Uruguay, Germany and France.  At a growth rate of 3.33 percent per year it would be 2041 before the average country in the world would be at an equivalent level of affluence as these godless nations.

If national wealth drives secularization, the global population will cross an atheist threshold where the majority see religion as unimportant by 2041.

Averaging across the two measures of atheism, the entire world population would cross the atheist threshold by about 2038 (average of 2035 for disbelief and 2041 for religiosity).  Although 2038 may seem improbably fast, this requires only a shift of approximately 1 percent per year whether in religiosity or belief in God.  Using the Human Development Index as a clock suggests an even earlier arrival for the atheist transition (1).

Is the loss of religious belief something fear?  Contrary to the claims of religious leaders, Godless countries are highly moral nations with an unusual level of social trust, economic equality, low crime and a high level of civic engagement (5).  We could do with some of that.

Sources 1. Barber, N. (2012). Why atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky. E-book, available at:  2. Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2004). Sacred and secular: Religion and politics worldwide. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 3. Barber, N. (2011).  A Cross-National test of the uncertainty hypothesis of religious belief Cross-Cultural Research, 45, 318-333. 4. Kaufmann, E. (2010). Shall the religious inherit the earth? London: Profile books. 5. Zuckerman, P. (2008). Society without God: What the least religious nations can tell us about contentment. New York: New York University Press.

Religion, Atheism And Secularism
By Ram Puniyani

Last three decades have seen an unprecedented presence of religion in social and political space. Somewhere the acts of terror, somewhere communal violence and somewhere the political influence of religious right on society and political processes, all these phenomenon have overshadowed the deeper inequities in the society, the aspirations of people for dignity and rights amongst others. Now comes a book which predicts that religions will become a minority vis a vis the practice of secularism in the decade of 2040s. The book is “Why Atheism will replace religion: The triumph of earthly pleasures over pie in the sky” written by Nigel Barber. This book relates the rise/fall of the religion with economic power and makes an observation that atheists are much more in developed countries.

The book is based on the study of 137 nations conducted by the author and concludes that in the countries; more developed the welfare system; higher is the number of atheists. The book’s crunch line is, in countries where distribution of income is even, lesser is the number of religious people. The author is a prominent psychologist. He makes a prediction that people will feel lesser need of supernatural beliefs when the tangible world is providing them for their real needs. Also in a survey conducted in America 20% people identified themselves as Atheists.

There is some terminological confusion here to begin with, while the study is a very reasoned one, and links the lack of security with the belief in god and practice of religiosity. Surely many a religions themselves have atheism as a component of their structure. Some streams of Hinduism like Charvak deny the existence of God. Jainism and Buddhism also do not talk of a supernatural power, but it’s another matter that followers of these religions converted the prophets of these religions themselves as Gods and are worshipping them. In the broad umbrella of Hinduism there are many traditions, Brahminism, Nath, Taantra, Bhakti, Siddh etc. In Hinduism itself the concept of God is also very diverse, from the polytheism with multiple Gods and Goddesses, tri-theism (Brahma Vishnu Mahesh) to the single God; Ishwar and then to the concept of formless power all these concepts are coexisting together merrily today.

In India thee atheist tradition starting from Charvak, in present times it found a strong articulation amongst communists the epitome of which has been Bhagat Singh with his famous tract, ‘Why I am an Athiest’. Also radical social reformers like Periyar Ramsamy Naicker gave the atheist movement a powerful lift. The rationalists association is nurturing the same to a great extent.

Other religions, where there is a single God, the concept of God keeps varying between the God with form and body to the formless power. Many decades ago a plethora of books debated about the existence of God. But last three decades in particular have seen a very different phenomenon i.e. gross abuse of religions’ identity by the political forces of status quo. Earlier to this, one saw in the beginning of 20th century, in the decade of 1920s, Christian Fundamentalism was a response of the conservative sections of society to the process of social change brought about by the process of industrialization and education due to which Africa-Americans and women started coming to social space. Islamic fundamentalism makes a political appearance with the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Here it was the politics related to oil and the high handed politics of Western powers which foiled the popular revolution and brought in a cleric as the head of the state. It was during this period that conservative versions of Islam were promoted by some of the rulers who were scared of popular urges for democracy. Salafi version of Islam is one such which was used in Saudi Arabia to keep a tight leash over the popular aspirations so that the Saudi oil can keep flowing in to the tankers of oil companies controlled by US-UK giants.

It is the same Salafi version of Islam which was brought in to the service of US hegemonic interest to control the oil in the region. This version was taught in the Madrassas in Pakistan. These Madrassas were set up with US instigation, money and syllabus, through which the Mujahedeen, Taliban Al Qaeda emerged and played into the hands of US designs of throwing away Soviet army from Afghanistan. In India, the insecurity of the section of middle classes in the face of rising presence of dalits and women in social space in the decade of 1980s led to the political abuse of religion’s identity by BJP when it took up the issue of Ram temple.

While the author of the book is talking about the release of the hold of religiosity and God with rising affluence, today sitting in South Asia the scenario seems to be the other way around. In Pakistan the hold of Mullahs on the social affairs is a big obstacle to the firm rooting of democracy there. In Sri Lanka again thousands of Tamils were butchered while attacking LTTE, lately one is seeing an attack on Christians and Muslims there. Not to be left behind, in Myanmar, the retrograde political forces are attacking poor Rohingya Muslims in the name of Buddhism.

One must add that there is no contradiction between secularism and religion. The author of this book is not clear on this. With secularization process, the role of clergy was relegated to the private sphere of society but religion as such was there. God was there. It’s now that with prosperity going above the critical levels that more people are feeling less need to call upon God to help them live a secure life. In South Asian countries a complex process had been witnessed all through. While people with great amount of religiosity and belief in God like Mahatma Gandhi and Mualan Abul Kalam Azad stood for secular state, the non practicing Muslim like Jinnah led the movement for a state in the name of Islam and an atheist Savarkar, was the ideologue of Hindu nation. Many a leaders of Hindu national politics may not be so religious but in the political arena, they create mass hysteria in the name of religion and God.

One wishes to agree with the authors’ prediction. Hope it is not restricted just to Western countries. What is more important is to realize is that mass spectacles of religiosity are an expression of deeper social insecurities, which are being cashed in by the politicians of ‘status quo’, who are deliberately using this religious identity to ensure that social distribution of resources to weaker sections is stalled. Today in India one can see a clear cut battle between those who stand for social welfare, and struggle to bring in measures go in that direction on one side. On the other are those political forces that resort to polarize the communities along religious lines, around identity issues. The latter have a social base amongst the socially insecure middle classes and the backing of section of big corporate houses. Seeing the pains of this battle between two paths, one turns pessimistic at times whether if at all, South Asia can get over the imposition of God-Religion in political arena and focus on improving prosperity with equitable distribution in society. In many a propaganda-claims being made for ‘development’ the factor of equitable growth is missing and that’s where the real definition of development lies. The bluff of development by communal forces has to be countered and the emphasis on the growth with concern for equity, affirmative action for the victim religious minorities and dalits-adivasis is the core around which the battle against the blind religiosity and assertions of politics in the name of religion has to be taken forward.

Western countries though far from the ideal in prosperity and growth, at least do not have the baggage of politics of religion’s identity in such a strong way as is prevalent in ‘post-colonial’ states; that is dogging South, West Asia in particular. This book gives the hope as far as prosperity and equity is concerned one hopes that this applies to the troubled countries where abuse of religion’s identity is playing havoc with the concept of human rights and survival of large sections of society.

Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. He is involved with human rights activities from last two decades.He is associated with various secular and democratic initiatives like All India Secular Forum, Center for Study of Society and Secularism and ANHAD.