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One of the dumbest things I have ever heard from an otherwise intelligent person came not quite a decade ago and from astronomer Alan Hale commenting on the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide (Hale, 1997). It is silly enough that he thought that his personal encounters with a few psychotic speculators regarding the Hale-Bopp comet represented a commonly held view of comets; but no, we learn from Alan Hale that the real reason 39 people in the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide is that they were ignorant and superstitious. They apparently didn’t know that after all a comet is nothing more than a cosmic “dirty snowball,” as Fred Whipple once quipped. Obviously science education failed these people or they would have known that there was no mother ship lurking behind the Hale-Bopp comet ready to receive their suicide-emancipated souls. Contra Hale, all it takes is an ounce of commonsense to see that the Heaven’s Gate followers were a deeply disturbed group of people whose mental health had nothing whatsoever to do with knowledge of the natural sciences. And if they were ignorant of the natural sciences, their ignorance was no worse than Hale’s apparent ignorance of human nature and the limitations of science.


SLCSP Paper # 173

Published Citation

Cobern, William W. "ID hysteria says more about some people's Freudian id than about science." Canadian Journal of Math, Science & Technology Education 7.2-3 (2007): 257-262.