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Sunday, June 9, 2019

Belief in UFOs Doesn't Qualify as a Religion

These days it's a tough time for UFO skeptics. The New York Times recently released its second bombshell article on UFOs. The report begins like this:

"The strange objects, one of them like a spinning top moving against the wind, appeared almost daily from the summer of 2014 to March 2015, high in the skies over the East Coast. Navy pilots reported to their superiors that the objects had no visible engine or infrared exhaust plumes, but that they could reach 30,000 feet and hypersonic speeds. 'These things would be out there all day,' said Lt. Ryan Graves, an F/A-18 Super Hornet pilot."

Later we have an account of a pilot seeing a mysterious orb flying between two Navy jets that were only about 100 feet apart from each other:

"The pilot and his wingman were flying in tandem about 100 feet apart over the Atlantic east of Virginia Beach when something flew between them, right past the cockpit. It looked to the pilot, Lieutenant Graves said, like a sphere encasing a cube."

So the report was of a mysterious orb flying between two Navy jets. Such an account reminds me of my own empirical experience. I have published online more than 800 photos I have taken of mysterious speeding orbs, and also more than 600 photos I have taken of mysterious striped orbs.  The cube-inside-an-orb reported by pilot Graves seems like a case of a rectangular prism inside an orb, and the striped orbs I so often photograph with chord stripes look similar to an orb with a rectangular prism inside it (a cube is one type of rectangular prism).   I had previously twice photographed a "square in the orb" effect, once in a sky orb (as shown here). 

speeding orb
A mysterious speeding orb I photographed this week

Earlier the New York Times published  a detailed account of a UFO sighting. They interviewed Navy pilot David Fravor, who was asked to use his Navy jet fighter to investigate an unidentified object in the sky. Fravor reported that the vehicle “accelerated like nothing I've ever seen.”

LiveScience.com has got a reaction about these reports from SETI astronomer Seth Shostak. The type of comments Shostak makes are completely predictable. For years Shostak has tried to discredit UFO reports. He seems to hate the idea of extraterrestrials that are nearby, but he wants us to believe in extraterrestrials that are far away, and to help fund his efforts to search for them. Go figure.

On the LiveScience page, Shostak gives us some scrambled reasoning that UFO sightings off the US coast are what we would expect from a foreign power trying to monitor us. “Coastal regions are where you might expect to find a rival nation's advanced reconnaissance craft," Shostak said, "because incursions over the continental United States would be more obvious and easily detected.” So if China were to try to monitor us, they would put their spy drones over the ocean, not over land? That doesn't make much sense. 

Shostak also tries to suggest that maybe the UFO sightings were due to “some sort of software bug or instrument issue.” The same far-fetched explanation was suggested by astronomer Leon Golub, who states in the New York Times article, “there are so many other possibilities — bugs in the code for the imaging and display systems, atmospheric effects and reflections, neurological overload from multiple inputs during high-speed flight.”

Similar weak reasoning has been used for years by skeptics to try to dismiss massive photographic evidence for mysterious orbs in photos. Skeptics will tell us that such things may appear because of camera malfunctions. This idea is completely unbelievable because digital camera technology is a proven, reliable technology that has been around for nearly 30 years. A claim of malfunctioning cameras might have had some credibility around 1990 just after digital cameras were invented. But after decades of reliable performance by digital cameras, the idea that a camera might be malfunctioning to produce something like 600+ photos of mysterious striped orbs and 800+ photos of mysterious speeding orbs (both of which I have published, as you can see in videos here and here) has no credibility. Similarly, since television is a long-established reliable technology, no one has any credibility when they make statements such as, “I see the TV says Donald Trump was elected president, so my TV must be suffering an electronic malfunction.”

As for the claim that UFOs are appearing on imaging systems because of software bugs, it has little credibility because military target acquisition software is a well-proven technology that has been around for decades, and we can hardly imagine that the Navy would let the fate of fantastically expensive military jets depend on target acquisition software that had not been well-tested. A Navy jet nowadays goes for about 60 million dollars.

As for Golub's claim about reflections, it  cannot explain the latest UFO reports, and also is worthless in explaining the phenomenon of mysterious orbs. An object seen in mid-air can never be a reflection, because there is nothing solid nearby to cause a reflection, and reflected light always disperses in the air, never forming into disks or balls. Even if we imagine some cloud of ice crystals floating in the air that might reflect some sunlight (a far-fetched scenario),  such a thing would not appear to be a solid object or orb or ball but as an amorphous cloud, and such a thing would be reported as hanging in the air rather than moving at fantastic speeds. We also cannot explain mysterious lights seen near the water as reflections, as the water scatters the light it is reflecting, rather than making it appear as a ball or solid object. Reflections can only explain things seen in mirror-like surfaces or things appearing when someone is photographing through glass (such as when you take a photo from inside a commercial jet).

Hardly something that would be mistaken for a UFO

What seems like another recent attempt to discredit UFO observations involves an attempt to categorize belief in UFOs as a religion. This attempt is made by Diana Pasulka with a new book entitled American Cosmic. In this interview she attempts to describe UFO belief as a religion. She gives this not-very-satisfactory definition of religion:

One way we can make sense of this by using a very old but functional definition of religion as simply the belief in nonhuman and supernatural intelligent beings that often descend from the sky. There are many definitions of religion, but this one is pretty standard.”

Later in the interview Pasulka states the following:

The belief that UFOs and aliens are potentially true, and can potentially be proven, makes this a uniquely powerful narrative for the people who believe in it. Is it fair to call this a new form of religion? I think so.”

The definition of religion suggested by Pasulka is not at all a “standard” definition. The problem of defining what is a religion is a difficult one, and many different definitions of religion have been proposed. Any serious attempt to define religion must be sufficiently broad so that it includes every major human religion. Human religions include systems as Theravada Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. These religions do not involve a belief in supernatural intelligent beings that descend from the sky. Theravada Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism originally did not involve a belief in any supernatural beings. A later form of Buddhism called Mahayana Buddhism did involve belief in many supernatural beings.

A good definition of religion would be one that covers all of these religions, and every major religion. I propose this definition: a religion is a set of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality and life, or a recommended way of living, typically stemming from the teachings of an authority, along with norms, taboos, ethics, rituals, roles or social organizations that may arise from such beliefs. This definition seems to cover every religion I have ever learned about, and also covers some additional ideological frameworks that are sometimes classified as religions. (I mean the "or" in the definition as an "and/or.") 

If we examine religions such as Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, we will find that they are a system of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality or life (or a recommended way of living), and that they do stem from the teachings of an authority. It is also true that both Christianity and Islam are a system of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality or life (or a recommended way of living), and that they do stem from the teachings of an authority.

Now let us consider: does a belief in UFOs qualify as a religion according to this definition? It seems it does not. The first reason is that a belief in UFOs does not qualify as a “set of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality or life, or a recommended way of living."

Consider the person who believes that UFOs must be some strange reality beyond human understanding. By believing in UFOs such a person has not at all adopted “a set of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality or life, or a recommended way of living.” For such a person is likely to have no concrete belief pertaining to what causes UFOs. Such a person will typically think something like this:

Maybe UFOs are spaceships from other planets. Or maybe they come from some other dimension. Or maybe they're time travelers from the future. Or maybe some of them are angels. I don't know whether they're here to take over our planet, or whether they're here to help us. Who knows?"

Thinking along such lines does not at all qualify as a system of beliefs about the fundamental nature of reality or life, nor is it a belief about a recommended path of life. There is no standard set of doctrines shared by believers in UFOs, who are “all over the map” in their opinions about UFOs. So the mere vague belief that UFOs are some type of power beyond human explanation is too nebulous and vague to qualify as a system of beliefs.

One hallmark of a religion is the transmission of belief doctrines based on authority. If you believe in a creator of the universe based on the precise fine-tuning of the universe's fundamental constants, the sudden unexplained origin of the universe, and the improbability of chemicals ever randomly forming into something as fantastically organized as the simplest living cell, that's philosophy or philosophy of religion. But if you know nothing of such matters, and believe in a divine creator simply because you were taught that by your Sunday school or the Bible, that's religion.

But a transmission of beliefs by authority is not going on among UFO believers. There is no UFO belief authority that hands down doctrines that the faithful accept. There is nothing in UFO belief corresponding to a holy book, a church or clergy. In this regard, UFO belief fails to qualify as a religion.

Very oddly, in her interview Pasulka talks about some people investigating UFOs, and says, “Now they’re much more compartmentalized and worried about attracting too much attention or having their research distorted, so they work in the shadows and mostly independently.” Such “lone wolf” activity does not sound at all like religion, which is very much a social affair in which believers typically bond together for ideological reassurance.

The person interviewing Pasulka (Sean Illing) perceptively suggests some skepticism about her thesis, and asks the following, referring to the very social nature of religion:

I’m curious why you call this a new form of religion. Traditional religions have dogmas and rituals, and they function as an anchor for the individual and a community. I guess I don’t quite see the parallels in the case of UFOs and aliens. Am I missing something?”

That was an excellent question, and one that Pasulka does not answer convincingly, as she then mentions religions that do not match the definition of religion she earlier stated.  I classify Pasulka's  claim that UFO belief is a religion as "another recent  attempt to discredit UFO observations" because once you have called something a religion you have implied that it is mainly based on faith rather than evidence.  

But in the case of UFOs, there seems to be quite a lot of evidence. The link here shows only reports of UFOs made to one reporting agency (the National UFO Reporting Center), and only reports of sphere-like UFOs. We see more than 18 reports of sphere-like UFOs sighted during May 2019 in different parts of the US, with most of the reports mentioning a duration of more than a minute. So it seems that the spherical UFO reported by pilot Graves was not so uncommon.  In fact, the link I just gave goes to a list of more than 7000 UFOs with a spherical shape. 

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