Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Pope puts foot in mouth, again..

According to the Pope, homosexuality is as big a problem as global warming and should be given equal priority and resources, you can read the detail here; can you see the obvious the problem with this picture?

Let me try and couch it in terms that will be familiar to most Christians, i.e. Pascal's wager (ish), so lets look at the options, we could,

Do nothing about homosexuality but fix global warming and then everyone's children and grandchildren (of all sexual persuasions) survive and continue to thrive, in fact things pretty much continue as they do now.


Try to "Fix" homosexuality (gosh that's not been tried before) and reprioritise global warming lower down the list, then we're ALL under 20 feet of water, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, "DOH!"

Does anyone need to think about our priorities regarding this choice too hard?

I'm pretty sure that we'll see a proper scientific biological and/or genetic explanation for sexual preference within the next few years, although some would say we already have enough evidence now. This Pope recently admitted that the whole Galileo thing was a bit of a cock-up and the earth does go around the sun after all, nice albeit 400 years too late, then there was the limbo thing, and let's not forget contraception and aids and so on.

Now call me picky but doesn't this old man get embarrassed about his treasured and privileged (infallible) seat continuing to be proved fallible, shouldn't someone have a quiet word?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christian arrogance, ignorance and bigotry, nicely encapsulated in one man

A little story about a Welsh poet called Patrick Jones came to my attention last week, it's a fairly standard story of a writer who has the courage to challenge established dogma, and a set of ignorant bullies who threaten violence to shut him up because they don't agree with what he says.

"Hold on a second".. I hear you say, don't we have a strong principal of free speech in this country? well I thought so too but apparently not according to Mr Stephen Green (leader of the Christian Voice). According to the story this fundamentalist loony used veiled threats to prevent a planned book signing happening at Waterstones in Cardiff, claiming that the book insulted his "invisible" friend and that because he didn't "understand" why anyone would want to read Mr Jones' book no one should.

The two protagonists in this little affair were interviewed on BBC radio and you can see the original BBC story and listen to Mr Greens' bile here what struck me was the number of times Mr Green said "I don't understand", which seemed to underline his whole world view to me.

The irony and hypocrisy of Mr Green is breath-taking, apparently he is a prominent campaigner against all the "stock" fundamentalist Christian straw-men, for example, homosexuality, Islam (fatwa envy?), abortion, sex-education and blasphemy etc. if it weren't for the unforgivable capitulation by Waterstones the episode would simply be a source of comedy. As an interesting aside, during an interview on a recent channel 4 documentary Mr Green was the recipient of an actual message from God, yes really, a huge dollop of bird shit fell on his head whilst he was spouting his nonsense on camera (you can see from the film that it really shook him and he refused to continue), a critical comment on his intellect perhaps?

I am appalled at the weakness of support shown for free speech here. I can't understand why everyone concerned didn't just let Mr Green and his "flock" of muttonous followers do their stuff and then send a clear message to him (and his ilk) by lining up a few burly secular police men to throw his pious arse into jail. Then he could explain his "theology" after lights out to a tattooed, 17 stone, gender challenged body builder called Dave.

It must only be a matter of time before this pompous buffoon with his ludicrously inflated sense of entitlement gets his comeuppance, hopefully in the traditional manner befitting his "kind", i.e. the exposure of some sexual deviance, financial scandal or my personal favourite, a lonely bitter and twisted descent into obscurity.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


The long night ends..

I am hopeful now that we can finally ditch the shackles of superstition and entrenched self interest to re-engage with the goal of moving the peoples of the world in a forward direction once again.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why do atheists care about religion?

It’s an often asked question, a particular favourite of the more sophisticated apologists in my experience. It usually surfaces as "why do you atheists care about something you don't believe in", which (as usual) misses the point almost entirely.

So, speaking as an atheist let me spell out why I care about religion.

Firstly, it's not about God, angels, rituals or devils and it’s not about scripture, no, those things are far too nebulous to care about. The question has a far more simple answer than that, it’s about truth, and more importantly it’s about the thought path that leads from a belief in things without evidence to dogma, arrogance, lies, hate and bigotry.

To me, religion epitomises the belief in things without evidence, this is what I understand "faith" to mean, this is religions specialist subject, it’s tour du force. I would be delighted to ignore religion completely and spend my brain cycles on more productive things (like reality), if only religion would ignore me, unfortunately it seems that religion can't do that.

Religion impinges on everyday life all over the place, for example, in schools where children are taught Bible stories (or Koran stories) as "fact" in blatant acts of indoctrination and brain washing involving the most vulnerable members of society. Religious leaders hold unelected privileged positions in our Governments; religion has special privilege in our institutions, our media and our societies, for example it would be unthinkable for a US president to be an atheist. Religions lie to people, for example by instructing people to believe that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that wearing a condom is worse than catching aids. Religions hold us back as a species, in areas of ethics for example abortion and areas of scientific research and advancement, for example stem cell research. Many apologists would jump in at this point and exclaim “but, look at all the “good” things that religions do”, well yes, no one would deny that, however the suggestion cannot seriously be that people (regardless of which bronze age book they believe in) would simply cease to be altruistic without threat of eternal damnation or promise of rewards in heaven, would it?

And then there is the simple insult of inhumanity; any week you can find dozens of stories from around the world where stupidity and ignorance inspired and informed by religion leads people to do utterly thoughtless or even barbaric things to each other, here are just a few recent examples I have seen…

13 year old stoned to death
Homophobic doctor banned
Growing up in Americas most hated family
Teaching hate in UK schools

Why do atheists care about religion, because its our world too and we cannot afford not to.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Faith schools, huh, what are they good for... absolutely nothing

It is common in Europe to look at America and Islamic countries and see them as two sides of the same fundamentalist coin. It is all too easy to laugh at the general ignorance regularly on display and the stupid things commonly said and done in the name of "faith" in these cultures.

For example

- The homosexual, drug taking, money obsessed preachers that seem to litter the mid-west
- The paedophile Catholic priests and the countless cover ups around them
- The stoning of rape victims in backward and primitive Islamic societies
- The life threatening misnaming of teddy bears
- Banning of books and WEB sites
- The denial of realities as shown by modern science
- The indoctrination and teaching of lies to children (see below)

However a recent story on the BBC reminded me rather sharply that the cancerous meme of "faith" is also well established and strong here in the UK, ever creeping outwards, promoting hate and trying to undo the enlightenment, dragging us back to the dark ages.

Take a look at this video; it really made me angry.

Thank goodness for Jeremy Paxman, people may feel uncomfortable with his forthright style but at least he stands up to racist morons like this. Most of all, shame, utter shame on our Government for the slimy, money grabbing double standards that allow obscenities like this school to exist.

Close the lot of them IMO, outlaw the indoctrination of children and consign this idiocy to where it belongs, in the past.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ding, Ding, all aboard the Atheist bus!

I am so pleased this project has come to fruition; after several false starts we will finally see Atheist inspired advertising on London buses. The BHA put out an appeal through their WEB site to raise £5,500 to place an ad on the side of 30 London buses for 4 weeks, generously Richard Dawkins has offered to match what is raised up to £5,500 with an equal donation, however they reached their goal within an hour and have since blasted through to a staggering total in excess (at time of writing) of £100,000 which is simply fantastic.

For those who can't read the small text in the picture the message reads "There's probably no god, now stop worrying and enjoy your life."; The word "probably" was only put there to avoid "offending" religious types, personally I would have put something stronger there, but hey we have to start somewhere, and the response to this first effort has been quite superb!

You can read the full story here and you can donate to the project here.

Hopefully there is someone over at the BHA who now has significantly bigger plans to spread the good news to Londoners and visiting American tourists (especially the fundies); In following Atheist blogs based in the US it is somewhat satisfying to note a rather rare tone of envy amongst the US “brothers”, some witty soul noted that if this ever happened in the USA the government wouldn’t be able to afford the bill for all the burnt-out buses, never a truer word etc.

I now have a new personal objective, ride an “atheist” bus, has to be done!

New Metallica

I had a birthday recently, one of the gifts I received was the new Metallica album (Death Magnetic)
Metallica isn't a band I've really followed over the years, but I must say I really like this new release, heavy metal for grown ups would be a fair summary IMO. Great riffs, intelligent lyrics, powerful presentation and production.

I've been playing it to death recently, it's my favourite "coding sound track" for the time being. Best tracks are "all nightmare long", "The end of the line" and "The Judas kiss" although there really isn't a turkey amongst them.


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Quentin Letts, does anyone take you seriously?

I spotted this rather infantile article recently here ;

It looks to me like the Daily Mail are plumbing the depths yet again, looking for a reaction, adding no value, contributing to the very thing they are supposedly exposing. They should run a poll, "would the UK be better off without the Daily Mail?", but I doubt they would have the guts. The subject of this piece was "The 50 people who wrecked Britain" which alarmingly represented an extract from a book of a similar title (I can't imagine how boring that must be!) the irony and arrogance on display were Jeremy Clarkson'esc enough for me to think that this must be parody, but depressingly it was not.

At number 25 we have Kenneth Clark, for apparently outlawing dangerous dog breeds, apparently Mr Letts thinks that this is a "bad" thing, ironically in the side bar of the very same page of the WEB site is a story about an 18 month old baby being bitten and dragged along the street by an escaped bull terrier named "asbo" by his moronic owner.

In the lead in to the article itself we have the following statement, "We all have our own little list of them - the fools, knaves and vulgarians who have helped dumb down Britain and promote the trite and the tawdry in national life." then at number 30 we have the Evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins. Now in what way is the holder of the chair for the public understanding of science at Oxford, best selling science author and acknowledged leader in his field responsible for "dumbing down" anything? On further inspection it would seem that Mr Letts objects to Dawkins Atheism, apparently Mr Letts is arguing that people are better off living in a world of superstition, lies or false promises rather than in what the rest of us like to call "reality". Of course I doubt is Mr Letts actually believes the fairy tales himself, probably far to "sophisticated", but perish the thought that anyone should steal the fantasy from the huddled masses that he stands astride.

At number 28 there is even a weather announcer; wrecking Britain?, what on earth is this numpty prattling on about, I think Mr Letts needs to get his head out of his rear end and look a little closer to home to find the answer to his question.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

John McCain, oh dear

I can't believe what I just heard,

Sky news was just showing an interview with JM and the topic of conversation was about the current financial crisis and the proposed US government bail out of Wall St. In response to the question "polls suggest the majority of people in the country (USA) are against the bail out, are you going to implement the view of the majority of the people in the country?" JM said, no, just like the Iraq troop surge he was going to go against the majority and choose a path that he "believed" in. Hold on a second, politician says screw what the majority thinks I'm going to do what I believe in, does that sound odd to you?

I suppose this attitude is not new, I'm thinking of Tony Blair and the infamous "WMD" fiasco etc, and it might not sound so bad when we are dealing with issues where opinion is clearly divided, but it increasingly sounds to me that leading politicians are morphing into evangelicals; anything is OK so long as you truly "believe".

What is more worrying is that Mr McCain’s running mate believes that the Christian "Rapture" is imminent (within her lifetime apparently) and that this will be triggered by some kind of apocalyptic event (like an Arab-Israel war for example?) when she and her fellow "believers" will be ushered up to heaven to be reunited with dead relatives (yes she actually thinks this is a positive thing); clearly the rest of us who think this is a bunch of bronze age horse crap will burn in hell for eternity (as always)..

Ponder for a moment; these are “people” who truly “believe” this stuff and these are people who will have their fingers on the triggers of the nukes.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Humanity existed long before Yahweh

It must be wonderful to be a palaeontologist and find amazing things like this recent site in the Sahara desert. Dated to 9000 years old these human remains offer us a view into a long extinct tribe that habited the area during a period when it was lush and green.

The skeletons are of a mother and two children; we don't know how they died but it was most probably from an infection by some microbe that they had no inkling even existed. We don't know if they died a painful death or if they simply slipped away in their sleep, but it is clear from the posture and arrangement of the bones that these people were strongly linked somehow.

It sends a chill down my spine when I think that there are almost certainly people walking around today in Africa or perhaps elsewhere who are direct ancestors of these individuals or more probably the survivors of whatever plague killed this particular family.

We like to think we are superior, some with our modern gods and others with our scientific advancements but when the soil was examined around these bones the team discovered a very high concentration of pollen grains, strongly suggesting that the bodies were laid on a bed of flowers.

The humanity of this scene jumps out and grabs you by the throat; we are not superior to these people, we ARE these people, we are not special nor are we destined for any more noble a fate, their legacy is our DNA, in a sense it belongs to them, we're just looking after it whilst we briefly dance in the sunshine.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Politician suffers brain death... but soldiers on

They’re at it again, Irish politicians, banging on about their ridiculous fairytales (see here for the previous loony tune); this time I offer you Mr Mervyn Storey a member (for North Antrim) of the DUP party in Northern Ireland and chair of the education committee there. Merv seems to be a seriously confused individual, he can’t seem to distinguish from ideas that only exist inside his head and REALITY, Merv thinks they are the same thing. Only this week he called for creationism to be taught alongside evolution in science classes (read it here), actually Merv admitted that he’d rather throw evolution out apparently because it’s “just a theory and not a proven fact”, just like gravity and the germ theory of disease then? So, if we throw out all the “theories” from science lessons then we’d be left with just the certainties, of course, doh!

Now as any rational person (religious or not) can see, there are a couple of obvious problems with Merv’s demands, lets look at them in more detail,

Anyone with even a basic understanding of the scientific method knows there is no such thing as a “proven fact”; the only thing mankind has that comes anywhere close to that are ideas and concepts that have so much irrefutable evidence that we assume them to be proven. For example gravity, bacteria, aerodynamics, molecules, electricity, DNA, the speed of light (none of these things are directly experienced in everyday life, but the evidence for them is so overwhelming we take them for granted) so we all lead our lives assuming that they are “facts”, actually our very lives depend on these “theories” from time to time. So then the term “theory” in science doesn’t mean the same thing that it does in everyday speech, it DOESN’T mean “hunch” or “guess”, in science a theory is the highest level of “idea” possible a theory explains observed facts and predicts what will happen, for example the theory of gravity explains and predicts what will happen if someone dropped a cricket bat on Mervyn’s head from the top of the Europa hotel in Belfast.

I don’t know Mr Storey so I cannot comment on his honesty but I do respect his electoral mandate (this is a democracy after all). Therefore all I can do is assume that he is sincere in his rationale, so then it turns out that his core assumption about what evolution actually is; i.e. the thing which he supposedly bases his whole argument on, is utterly wrong, one quick Google would have straightened it out for him (perhaps they don’t have the internet where he’s from?)

Another little issue for Mervyn is that assuming creationism is somehow “taught” in science lessons, which version should be taught?, there are so many! For example, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Babylonian, Celtic, Aztec, Apache, Aborigine etc. ad nausea, ah of course, Mervyn is a Christian; so obviously it’s Genesis then… hold on a minute, there are two contradicting creation stories in the book of Genesis, which one is the scientific one then Merv? Poor old Merv, seems like this is not the straightforward equality issue that he would like us to think it is, I know, let’s take a look at the response from Caitriona Ruane, the current NI education Minister, surely she will inject some common (secular) sense into the matter?

Well apparently not, she says, "This is not about removing anything from the classroom – although that would probably be the ideal for me – but this is about us having equality of access to other views as to how the world came into existence and that I think is a very, very important issue for many parents in Northern Ireland.", hold on, who said anything about denying access to creation stories, don’t most religious parents already indoctrinate children at home and at Sunday school with their particular creation myths, so why do they need to be taught in science classes as well?

I have an idea, a simple straightforward system that will sort this out once and for all so that everyone is happy, how about we restrict ourselves to teaching stuff to kids in science classes only from the set of things that we have overwhelming scientific evidence for; then we can all be secure in the knowledge that the things being taught to our kids as "science" represent man kind’s current best attempt at explaining reality, nothing more and nothing less. If we use this as our entry criteria for science then all creationists have to do to get their ideas taught (as science) is to provide overwhelming evidence for creationism, i.e. what observable facts does it explain and what predictions does it make that can be shown to be true. In addition to this of course, creationism would also have to explain all observed facts, and if those facts refute it then creationism as an idea would have to be abandoned and consigned to history books, still want it called science Merv?

So, all Mr Storey and his creationist buddies need to do is explain how creationism accounts for things like,

-The entire fossil record and their relative positions in the rock strata
-Where did the dinosaurs go Merv?
-All forms of radiometric dating of organic samples and rocks (why is it wrong?)
-The taxonomy of living things and their distribution on planet.
-Why create 13 different species of finch on different Galapagos Islands for example?
-Comparative DNA evidence, why is our DNA 98% the same as chimpanzees?
-Anatomical evidence, why are species body plans so similar (including the duff bits?)
-Why would God create blind fish in caves that actually have eyes that don't work?
-Plate tectonics and ocean floor spread, which indicates our earth is billions of years old
-Microbial resistance to antibiotics
-Specialisation of species conforming to environmental differences
-Transitional fossils
-Sexual selection

etc.. etc.. (Hint, the answer "god did it because he can" explains nothing...)

So then, evidence for creation, um, anything, anything at all…

Still waiting…

Nothing so far…

Thursday, July 03, 2008

New Coldplay

It was Fathers day here last weekend; Along with a new shirt, I received a copy of the new Coldplay CD titled "Viva La Vida"; I've been listening to it a lot this week on repeat in iTunes and I reckon for all the slightly odd press this group tends to get it's not a bad album.

I particularly like the tracks Lost, Life in Technicolor, Cemetries of London and Viva La Vida. My only hesitation is the alarming number of religious references in almost every track, perhaps Chris Martin is going all God squad on us, or maybe it's a protest kind of thing, who knows, good tunes in any case.

Atheist Ideology

People often ask "what do Atheists stand for", this is a meaningless question of course because being an Atheist says nothing about what you believe, only that you don't believe in god. I could be a communist and an Atheist or a conservative and an Atheist. On the other hand being a Theist of some kind means that by definition you follow a particular set of dogmas and more often than not an ideological, political and ethical position on many if not all issues.

Just for fun I thought I'd capture what I feel represents the essence of the two positions, i.e. Theist and Atheist, and just for completeness also point out where the two groups overlap. Draw whatever conclusions you like from it.

Atheists value understanding and evidence, Theists value hope and faith
Atheists admit they don't know, Theists know their God explains everything
Atheists grieve the death of loved ones, so do Theists
Atheists experience love, hate, awe, wonder and lust, so do Theists
Atheists can be altruistic but don't expect a reward in heaven, so can Theists but do.
Atheists can be murderers, liars, criminals, racists and bigots, so can Theists.
Atheists make the most of this world, Theists covert the "next" world.
Atheists thank the surgeon, the fireman, the scientist and the engineer, Theists thank God
Atheists know they are cousins of all living things, Theists feel they are unique and special
Atheists thrive on human solidarity, Theists thrive on the notion of an elite, chosen few
Atheists stand in awe of the universe, Theists believe it was all made just for them
Atheists value scepticism, Theists value obedience
Atheists believe in evolving human morals, Theists believe in static unalterable morals
Atheists see nature, Theists see magic

The conclusion I draw is that its is liberating to be an atheist.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Right on the money

Another cracking article by AC Grayling for the Guardian (here), this one about how the Government is handing over control of our schools to various religious organisations by relaxing the existing rules about paying for the privilege of "indoctrinating" children.

The article is good IMO, slightly tongue in cheek sure, but with a serious point behind it; interestingly most of the "religious" commentators seem to resort to ad-hominem attacks rather than making any interesting counter-points (no change there then), and where points are made they are invariably along the lines of "why shouldn't Christians teach their mythology, because Muslims do etc." At one point in the comment trail some sensible soul points out the argument is not about dogma (A) verses dogma (B), which is completely missing the point, it's about dogma verses NO DOGMA; it's about education, not indoctrination.

Its truly abhorrent to an Atheist like me that the government should be using MY MONEY to promote the indoctrination of children by religious proselytisers, where was the debate?, I must have been out that day. It is also sickening to me to see all of the apologists running around spouting their hypocritical, "don't rock the boat" mantra, "Oh yes but faith schools have much better records than secular ones" I hear them say. Just how short sighted is that view, sign the kids up for a lifetime of delusional servitude no problem, so long as they get a "B" in maths.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Bigotry vs "opinion" where is the line?

Is it OK to hate gay people if that happens to correspond to your religious indoctrination?

This may seem like a rather "personal" matter but a news story cropped up this week that made me think about this question in the broader sense; The story was regarding a Northern Irish MP (Iris Robinson) who made a comment on a BBC radio show recently that homosexuality is an "abomination" and urged gay people to seek counselling. Having broadcast this, various people subsequently complained about her comments to which her response was that this viewpoint represented her "religious belief" and so tough luck she was exercising her freedom of speech. The original story is here, apparently this isn't the first time her "opinions" have caused offence.

Clearly Ms. Robinson is a Christian, although I don't know what flavour she is, clearly she has an opinion regarding homosexuality that is informed by her Christian indoctrination, all to be expected I suppose, in fact all the Abrahamic religions have similar sexual hang-ups it seems. It would also seem that like most of the things they "believe" there is no evidence or rational for those beliefs, they just believe it because they are told to believe it, unsurprisingly Ms. Robinson offered no evidential perspective on her "belief".

In terms of a tolerant, modern, secular society these views are clearly deluded, obsolete drivel, transparently derived from certain verses in her particular "magic book", the bible. Being the mixed up contradictory mess that this book is (particularly the old testament) it is hard to fathom why these particular verses seem to be "true" and applicable to Ms. Robinson, when other proclamations of "abominations", like educating Women for example, seem to be overlooked (Ms. Robinson went to college); perhaps she has some special (secret) interpretation of these texts that the rest of us aren't party to, who knows, indeed who cares?

Given that any of us are perfectly entitled to hold whatever personal views we like about any subject in our society, is she free to spout those views when and where ever she likes? My question is, does being an MP mean that you forfeit the right to air your more "wacky" opinions or is it a reason to be even clearer about what you really believe, where is the line?

In many ways I think this story and similar "superstitiously" motivated outpourings are generally a good thing; my initial reaction when I first saw this story was to smart at the obvious bigotry of this individual and the clear hypocrisy of her point of view, however I would rather this information be out in the open than hidden. Now the good people of Newtonards, who's views are represented by Ms. Robinson, can make a clearer choice at the next election, i.e. do they want to be represented by someone who prioritises ancient literature over human beings and who picks and chooses which Iron age dogma to "believe" and which to discard based on her own hypocritical self-interest,

or someone else..?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A couple of interesting bottles

I helped to consume a couple of interesting bottles of mature Bordeaux this weekend, graciously donated in the interests of science by one of my work colleagues. The wines came from opposite ends of the Medoc, one from the far North and one from the South and the styles really showed that well, very distinct and different wines probably separated by no more than 30 miles distance.

First up was a 1986 Chateau Rollan de By; this one had a good fill and a very badly soiled label, although the cork was in good condition. Nice ruddy colour, interesting nose, blackcurrant, tobacco, wet leaves; quite angular in the mouth, probably what you would call "classic", quite a lot of iron/blood taste but with good grippy spicy fruit underneath. I liked this and it did improve after an hour in the decanter, softening up quite a bit. Certainly well within its drinking window and probably best to drink up now if you have any, decant it for at least an hour though. We drank this with no food, I reckon it would be lovely with a good fillet steak or similar.

The next one was from Margaux in the South of the Medoc (Soussans); 1989 Chateau Deyrem Valentin; a very good year and the bottle and cork were in very good condition. Nice colour slightly lighter than the Rollan and initially the nose showed some "farmyard" with red berries underneath, after a while this completely blew off and the wine seemed to really shine; good balance, nicely rounded and fruity, soft and resolved, surprising weight and finish for the age and colour, a very pleasant wine clearly from a good vintage. Although this certainly has life left in it I reckon it's probably not going to get any better than it is right now.

It was very surprising how a couple of relatively cheap (i.e. roughly £10-15) cru bourgeois wines like this can age well and improve like this over 20+ years, it just confirms in my mind what an interesting region Bordeaux is and what a fascinating hobby wine can be.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mainstream lunacy

I couldn't help but wince when I saw this story today (here);

WTF are these idiots doing, much like the freaks who nail themselves to crosses and the imbeciles who drop babies from tall buildings these pious retards think that grown men jumping across live babies serves some actual purpose other than proving natural selection is alive and well and is still selecting the human species for intelligence.

Their mothers must be so proud..

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What would sir prefer with his Anthrax, red or white?

An interesting wine related story came up on the BBC news feed today (here) about how in tests wine apparently tasted different according to particular music that was being played as it was consumed. Now I know some singers styles could be described as whining but music affecting taste, surely not?

However, having pondered this for a bit I think they could be onto something here, its very obvious that certain music affects your mental state in different ways, fast, slow, happy, sad etc. and since taste is as much a brain function as a physical response I don't actually see why this couldn't be the case, perhaps a good test would be to play simple "Mediterranean" music whilst supping a nice rose from Bandol to see if the combination mentally transports you back to that leafy terraced restaurant you sat in on your holiday this year, and suddenly hey presto, the wine tastes better..

Anyway, interesting research, just think of the matches, I wonder what wine would go with opera, fat bastard Chardonnay maybe?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


In Jerusalem, a journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Wailing Wall to pray, twice a day, everyday, for a long, long time.

So she went to the Wailing Wall to check it out, and there he was.

She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview.

"I'm Rebecca Smith from CNN. Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wall and praying?"

"For about 60 years".

"60 years! That's amazing! What do you pray for?"

"I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the hatred around the world to stop and I pray for all our children to grow up in safety and friendship."

"Sir, how do you feel after doing this for 60 years?"

"Like I'm talking to a f#### brick wall."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nout as queer as the platypus?

I spotted something in a newspaper today that on the surface seemed positive but scratch below the surface and it just confirms the shallow attitude of the media to serious and important scientific endeavours these days. You can read the article accompanying the paper here.

The article was about the recent decoding of the platypus genome, and a paper that has just been published entitled "Genome analysis of the platypus reveals unique signatures of evolution."; so far so good, at least it's an article in the mainstream media about a serious scientific principal, i.e. evolution, but then I read further, "the egg-laying critter is a genetic pot-pourri — part bird, part reptile and part lactating mammal", wrong, wrong, wrong. Don't these people know anything about evolution, for a start species aren't "mixed up" as this quote implies, like some giant tumble drier or a marvel comic, half man, half spider etc. secondly they simply miss the whole point of the paper which is about lineage and what is "similar" about this creature to other mammals, not just its unique phenotype (physical body).

The platypus is NOT part bird, in fact birds are an independent and unrelated lineage, birds and the platypus certainly had a common ancestor but the evolutionary trajectory split around 315ma (million years) ago when the Synapsids and the Sauropsids went their separate ways. It is true to say it's part reptile since it directly descends from reptiles (reptiles are much older than birds), you can also equally say that we are part reptile also since we share a big chunk of that lineage up to a point around 160ma ago deep in the Mesozoic era. (see diagram below)

The platypus is certainly unique it never lost the egg producing machinery that the rest of the mammalian tree did, it also evolved the ability to produce venom as certain of its reptilian ancestors do, but interestingly all other mammals did not. This paper is a fabulous confirmation of our present understanding of evolution and as more and more genomes are decoded that confirmation gets stronger and stronger, an absolutely fascinating subject.

Some of the hard numbers stick out, for example the platypus has roughly 18,000 genes, slightly less than us (we have around 20,000), approximately 82% of the genome is shared between marsupials, eutherians, reptiles and monotremes etc. and about half the genes are "junk" (which doesn't necessarily mean pointless). All of this adds weight to the current picture of common lineage derived from the molecular biology, which in turn overwhelmingly confirms the same conclusions reached via other paths, i.e. the fossil record, comparative anatomy and animal distribution patterns etc.

I'm sure Charles Darwin would be astounded (and just a little smug) if he were alive today!

What can you do...?

As an atheist and a rationalist I find it very frustrating to read to the utter made up nonsense spouted by the likes of Cardinal Keith, or more importantly reconcile the prominence such commentary receives in the mainstream media. I think this is because the normal cornerstones of reasonable argument don't work with them, it is impossible to bring logic, evidence and shared human solidarity to bear on their bigoted, misinformed and archaic ejaculations. I'm reaching the conclusion that by far the best way to deal with the idiocy of the Archbishops is through humour, never a truer word and all that, see here

Friday, May 09, 2008

Cardinal Keith does it again..

Some people just don't know when to quit do they; just when the condemnation of the Archbishop of Westminster over his recent uninformed remarks on medical research has subsided he's at it again! Now the target of his ignorance is "reason", apparently, according to big Keith "reason" leads to terror, funny that I thought it lead to knowledge. Its clear from his remarks that he thinks reason is an enemy of the Catholic church, but then why make such a transparent comment?

Here is a quote from an interview he did with the BBC today..

"Danger because, if you go just by reason, I think, without faith, without belief in God, you can imagine, for instance in the last century, some of the faith(less), or supposedly faithless societies - people, whether it's like Hitler or Stalin, bringing up - having a country in which, if you like, a God free zone, a dictatorship ruled by reason, and where does it lead? To terror and oppression"

Wow not the old "Hitler and Stalin" chestnuts; perhaps he'd like to recall what happened the last time our country was run entirely by "faith", the "dark ages" I think it was called..

Is this just a snake-oil salesman trying to justify why you need snake-oil, Catholic church attendance has declined more than 50% in a generation you think they'd wake up and smell the coffee? and get themselves some updated arguments, I'm sure most "rational" people really don't care what imaginary friends the Cardinal has, he clearly is hopelessly out of touch with the real world.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Busy cutting code at work; some heavy stuff and some tight deadlines so a good soundtrack is essential; I've been listening to the "Nine Inch Nails" recently, not a band I've really come across before although they are hardly fringe; they have a kind of technical, industrial, grungy sort of sound of music lots of synthesisers, drum machines, effects and distorted voices with an occasional "kicking" guitar backing. The lead singer is a guy called Trent Reznor who is about my age but looks like he works out more, apparently he used to be a programmer (or similar) before he got famous as a musician, I feel empathy with him, or is it envy..

This is a recent album (2007) that I've had on shuffle & repeat a lot, it's called "year zero", I particularly like the track called "Me I'm not", recommended!

2001 Coudoulet de Beaucastel

Had a bottle of this on Friday night;Château Beaucastel is one of the premier estates of the southern Rhone valley, their top wines fetch a tidy sum sometimes reaching into £hundreds for a single bottle. This one is much more reasonable though, weighing in at around £15 , it is often called a "second wine" because it's not quite up to the same level as their "grand vins" but nevertheless is made by the same team and more often than not punches above its weight.

The 2001 Coudoulet is a very good wine; the vintage itself was a good one in the S. Rhone and this is a great example, good fruity nose, plummy, inky, but not overpowering, nice rounded feel in the mouth revealing some spiciness and a good finish. I'd recommend it, should be great with a BBQ as well as being a superior dinner party wine, versatile is the word.

You can read more about it here.

We want high speed networks, when do we want it, now!

I noticed today that Bournemouth has a new toy; 100Mbps broadband supplied via their sewers, see the story here.

What a great idea, why can't this be rolled out everywhere? Its about time that our Government looks at our network infrastructure as something that's strategic and not just for "internet shopping", our European partners such as France are (as usual) way ahead of us rolling out higher speed networks to homes as a matter of course.

The "free market" is all very well and good but it's not much use if all your competitors have better equipment than you!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Expose "Expelled"

This post isn't about anything really, it's just here to create a link to this site.

This site exposes a piece of creationist crap called "expelled" which is a right wing, big money, Christian think-tank funded film which is essentially lies about science, about evolution and about morality. You don't have to take my word for it read the contents of the site and check out some independent reviews of the film here and here etc.

The more people that link to this site the more the search engines will pick it up, and the more people will read the TRUTH about this matter. Educate yourselves people, these zealots want to indoctrinate YOU!

Friday, April 11, 2008

All things?

I was listening to a deist arguing about something the other day and it struck me how religious people always seem to claim the "best" parts of the universe as their own and kind of ignore the less attractive bits. I wouldn't want to be pedantic, but don't "gods" (especially the monotheistic ones) have to take responsibility for all of it, if not then where did the nasty parts come from?

It put me in mind of this little ditty - old but amusing..

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.
Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom.
He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each poisonous little squid--
Who made the spiky urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

All hail, David Aaronovitch

David Aaronovich is fast becoming my hero; not only does he write articles for a main-stream publication (the Times) but he isn't afraid to expose our so called "moderate" religious leaders when they spout utter unsubstantiated crap. Having exposed the head of the Catholic church in Scotland last week regarding the current embryo research bill as being guilty of spreading ignorant scaremongering hogwash, he now turns his attention to the Bishop of Durham (here), who apparently says that "The Militant Atheists and secularists behind this bill want to kill unborn babies and dispose of surplus old people"!

Wow, now wouldn't you think that if any main-stream secularist organisation actually did say that, then there would be a total and utter media frenzy over it? Of course, it's a lie, lying for Jesus seems to be the norm for religious leaders in this country, then I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, their whole life is based on at best a delusion or most probably a lie so they surely have long since lost the ability to differentiate.

His point about religions changing their minds to suit themselves is well made, it happens all the time although trying to find a faith head who will admit it is like finding a needle in a haystack; just a few obvious examples spring to mind, slavery, women's rights, killing apostates, slaughtering unbelievers etc. it seems so obvious to Atheists, either this stuff is true or it isn't, no amount of intellectual wrangling can change the plain fact that it all looks like it's made up by men, for men to control other men.

So, come on Bishop, stop stalling and answer the question on the table, if you can't then have the guts to admit you were lying for Jesus..

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cardinal Keith O'Brien agrees he needs to get an education... not

You know when you read something that makes you think wow, that's a turn up for the books; someone who you had pegged as an ignorant, intolerant, laggard actually agreeing to look at the opposite site of an argument, accepting that they need to be educated even? then, as you read on your heart sinks as you realise that this is just a publicity stunt and there is absolutely no movement in their position at all, well that just happened to me here.

Leader of my current interfering religious hypocrite top 20, Cardinal Keith O'Brien (head of the Catholic church in Scotland) splashed out today by agreeing to meet with scientists to talk about the embryo bill currently running through parliament which he is on record as calling "monstrous". Could this be correct? is Keith finally admitting that what he said about this bill last week was pure drivel based on scientific ignorance and the intransigent medieval dogma that he was indoctrinated with as a young child? does he really now want to meet the people that actually want to do something (real) about hideous and incurable medical conditions, maybe get himself an education?

well not quite.

Of course, there's a catch, his caveat is revealed later in the article, it reads as follows, "My only condition would be that the scientists were also willing to accept instruction from our Churches and peoples of faith on basic morality, on what human life really is, on the purpose of our life on earth and so on."

Looks like he played his trump card, front and centre he's saying "you have to listen to our religious, sky-fairy, delusional instruction and accept it, because, well, just because", the implication of course is that scientists can't possibly have "morals" without believing the same ridiculous medieval dogma that Keith does; unfortunately Keith can't back this up with anything useful, like evidence, or rational argument of course, he gets his opinions delivered directly into his head from the creator of the universe... uh.. ok.. dude we all get those, they're called dreams.

There are so many reasons why this is utter BS it's like shooting fish in a barrel;

1. Why is the opinion of this bejewelled ignoramus worth a jot, why is our establishment even bothering to listen?
2. Who "elected" this person to represent anyone; even the people he supposedly does represent are a tiny minority in the UK.
3. What is this "morality" that "people of faith" (particularly Catholics) have that the rest of us don't?
4. Why is Catholic dogma about "souls" more important than curing Parkinson's disease?
5. How are "people of faith" going to agree on the big moral questions of our time if they can't even agree about what you can and can't eat and on Fridays..
6. If this bill is passed and the research leads to a cure for heart disease (the biggest killer in Scotland) would the Cardinal recommend his "flock" shun it (for moral reasons?)..


My opinion is that using ignorance and medieval dogma to prevent biomedical research is, well, a monstrous insult to our basic human rights...

Monday, March 24, 2008

What do Archbishops know about Ethics?

I reckon that it would be a pretty safe bet that given any population of religious people and the same (numerically) population of non-religious people there will be roughly equal proportions of liars, cheats, perverts, hypocrites, honourable people, altruistic people, intelligent, stupid etc.

Whilst this is more of an intuitive assertion than a scientific one, any hard evidence I have ever seen about the subject tends to suggest this, in fact most evidence I've seen implies that religious people tend to be less "moral" than their irreligious counterparts (prison populations, teen pregnancies, divorce rates etc.); which is interesting in itself, but not the subject of this post.

My question is, "where does our morality come from"; if my previous assertion is true anyone would have to agree, it may be informed by different religions in different ways, but it's not intrinsically from religion, i.e. the notion that if you don’t have a religion you can’t be "moral" is clearly nonsense. For myself I'm pretty sure I know the answer to this question, being a parent, it's perhaps a simplistic view but the answer seems blindingly obvious to me, we get our morals from, our parents and our community of peers, those that we don't get from that source are clearly innate because we observe them in related species, i.e. they are already hard-wired from our evolutionary heritage. I observe this every day in the behaviour of my kids and their friends, i.e. on the whole they tend to be a blend of the attitudes, perspectives and habits of their parents. Interestingly (although, not scientific) I also observe that the kids from religious backgrounds (i.e. the ones that are in the process of being indoctrinated into the religion of their parents) are often the worst behaved. I would offer the theory that this is because they are constantly being told that they are “special” and “righteous” that level of arrogance and solipsism has got to affect growing brains somehow?

Anyway, onto the main thrust of this post, I have been following a story in the mainstream press currently on a bill that the government is trying to get through the house called “The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill” (you can read what people are saying about it here); part of it would allow the creation of part human, part animal embryos for purposes of stem cell production. As you would expect (groan), the usual religious “objectors” are demanding a free vote, religious interests inside and outside the Government are doing their best “indignant” faces, terms such as “monstrous”, “Frankenstein”, “sacred” are being tossed around and the bejewelled, robed and self appointed religious “leaders” are gathering like vultures around a dying wildebeest on the African savannah.

There are so many aspects of these “objections” that are themselves objectionable that it’s actually quite hard for me to know where to start, lets start with the science part,

- Firstly, humans are animals, animal DNA and human DNA are made of the exactly the same stuff, so we’re really just talking about manipulating chemicals that replicate themselves, not people.

- This research focuses on very small groups of cells; roughly the same as the number you destroy with a good scratch or pick of your nose.

- No one is talking about actually creating hybrid organisms, indeed that possibility doesn’t even exist; this argument is about science at the cellular level, not zoology!

- Every human cell has the “potential” to become another human, if it’s ok to experiment with skin cells, heart cells or liver cells (I could say to find treatments for middle-aged, syphilitic, alcoholic clergymen at this point, but that would be a cheap shot) why not embryonic cells?

Taking these points on board it seems to be evident that the Archbishop of St. Andrews, Keith O’Brien [Catholic] just wants to stir up trouble or is just lying for Jesus when he says, "[this legislation is a] monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life", adding that it would allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion", what utter poppycock, doesn’t this chap actually read this stuff? Even Lord Winston (quite rightly) chipped in criticising this buffoon today (here) and he claims (incomprehensibly to me) to be a man of “faith” as well, albeit not a Catholic.

I don’t understand the Catholic “hang up” with this; it’s the same with abortion, actually I don’t think they understand it either, it seems to be a case of dogma trailing behind reality and some sad old virgins trying to remain relevant, but then I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion. If it is indeed the (true) opinions of these people that this kind of research is immoral then I would like to ask the following questions,

- Is it moral to believe that the needs of a clump of 150 cells trump the needs of a teenage girl with MS or an elderly man with Parkinson’s disease?

- Is it moral to believe that we shouldn’t use our intelligence and reason to alleviate measurable suffering when it is clear that the suffering caused is less or none at all?

- Did the Catholic God create these diseases, these viruses and bacteria? If the answer is yes, then clearly there is some kind of master plan (otherwise why do it?), therefore are the sufferers being punished, and is it immoral to treat any kinds of medical problem?

- Do Catholics have a superior knowledge of ethics and morality than everyone else; if they do how do they know that?

I doubt if these questions will ever be answered for me, but they go to the heart of my objection with these objections, it's not about a point of view and it's not about holding a different opinion, its about some people thinking (i.e. in their own heads) that they know something everyone else doesn't, and also thinking that because of that they have the right or even the calling to impose that view, this authority from revelation (or passed down revelation) is something that I feel doesn't belong in our modern world, in fact I think it is immoral.

In short then, what do Archbishops know about ethics that the rest of us don't?

Look at these idiots..

Take a perfectly normal, healthy human child with all its inherent potential for stunning intellectual and physical achievement in the pursuit of bettering themselves and their species, every parent should know what to do right?

Instead of cultivating that positive humanist perspective, opt to subject it at the earliest possible age to utterly pointless, oppressive and bizarre medieval rituals backed up by a stultifying, solopsistic iron age death cult instead. What's that I hear you say?, "they'd never believe it!", well in that case, "convince" the kid, using peer pressure and the threat of cultural exclusion, that unless they believe it, they (and everyone they love) will burn in agony for an eternity, bake at gas mark 5 for a few years and look what you get here...


They must be so proud...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Farewell fellow traveller

I just learnt that Arthur C Clarke has died aged 90, author, atheist, scientist, diving enthusiast and all round technology pioneer, the world will certainly be a dumber place tonight without him; what an interesting life, like most of us he had ups and downs, from the little I know about him more ups than downs but unlike most of us he leaves a significant literary and technological legacy and because of that is a great example of what can be achieved organically, i.e. without the need for any supernatural "additives".

The story from the BBC is here

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bye Bye Blasphemy

I couldn’t let such a momentous event in secular history pass by without a mention, here in the UK the laws of blasphemy that have been on our statute books centuries have finally this week been repealed (i.e. removed) HURRAH!

In terms of the laws themselves it is unclear what they really meant, I suspect that was kind of the point, the last successful prosecution was in 1922 when some poor chap was sentenced to 9 months of hard labour for comparing Jesus to a circus clown, seems a bit harsh to me, one could almost say un-Christian?

Apparently the laws only applied to the Church of England, and not other Christian denominations or (perish the thought) any other religion (or lack of), so there! Such nepotism and clearly man-made nonsense you couldn’t hope to find in law, but there are still people out there willing to fight for this drivel, for example Baroness O’Cathain who would seemingly rather see a theocracy than a secular democracy in this country, perhaps she would like to use Iran as a role model, no?, of course, that would be stupid, her religion is far superior to their religion, how Christian.

Of course there were also the “Bishops”, smug, privileged, unelected, passing judgement down on the rest of us from that triumvirate haven of tyrants, “tradition”, “authority” and “revelation”, along with many other unelected chinless wonders, fortunately there were enough rational people around to abolish the vile things, welcome to the 19th century Britain, now just disestablishment to go and we might have a peek at the 20th?

So how to summarise this event, there are two views I suppose,

1. We have moved one step closer to utter civil collapse by removing another pillar in our cultural and moral heritage as a nation (along with slavery, witch burning, bear-baiting, child labour, subjugation of Women, homophobia, imperialism and the birch etc.)

2.We have finally removed an inherited, petty, solipsistic but "official" legal privilege of a group of people whose only supposed merit is that they “believe” in a 1st century desert myth about a supernatural being who performs magic tricks and a story of human sacrifice, all without a single shred of evidence.

I know which one I’d go for.

The 7 deadly sins 2.0

What’s this? could it possibly be the Catholic church engaging in the great “debate”, challenging the rationalist position, providing evidence of the divine, delivering a crushing logic bomb that finally destroys the enlightenment, well not quite. I'm sure the cynical amongst you would say that it’s a just the usual mediaevally inspired attempt at thought control and that here we have a bunch of old virgins clinging onto the vestiges of power by trying to kid everyone that they actually care about humanity. You might even point out the blatant hypocrisy when it is so transparently obvious that its their own petty vested interest being shoved down our throats here and very little else, perhaps you would be right, let's see.

Well folks here we have it, 7 new deadly sins, these little beauties will instantly condemn any transgressor to an eternity of torment in the furnaces of hell, no question, well, ahem, unless they slip the big guy a few quid and he supplies an “indulgence” which lets them off the hook (but that’s a different topic), back to those “mortal sins”, let’s take a closer look..

Environmental Pollution – Yes, this is bad, no doubt about that, but it’s not a black and white issue really is it, who is culpable if an oil tanker is blown onto the rocks, who is going to fry for that? Then there is the issue of where the largest contribution to environmental destruction actually comes from, any guesses?, could it be OVER-POPULATION, what is the most likely religion of those engaged in slashing and burning the rain forest? Does this mean that contraception is now ok, so long as it’s to prevent environmental destruction because of over-population?

Genetic Manipulation – The doctrine isn’t too clear on this one, what kind of manipulation is kosher and what is not, or are they saying any manipulation is off limits. Surely they aren’t talking about the artificial selection process that Norman Borlaug undertook in the 50s that resulted in more hardy, disease resistant varieties of wheat that conservative estimates conclude have directly saved more than 1 BILLION human lives since then, or perhaps the work of the countless scientist using genetic manipulation to produce vaccines for say, smallpox or polio, all but eradicating them, although you have to say that this has been achieved in the teeth of opposition from religions like Catholicism see here

I suspect the thrust of this one is targeted firmly at those engaged in stem cell research, particularly those using embryos as the source of those cells. I smell the vile whiff of DOGMA folks, yes, we’re expected to believe that a Petri dish containing a blastocyst of 150 cells has a, wait for it, A SOUL; yes we’re back into the realm of MAGIC people. How can those nasty scientists destroy clumps of 150 cells, clearly the suffering involved trumps the suffering experienced by an 11 year old school girl with MS. As for where this soul actually is, well, those know-all scientists just can’t be using the right kind of micro-scopes can they, don't they know you need to close your eyes to see them. What these Catholics don’t seem to appreciate is that more cells are actually destroyed when you pick your nose, and yes, all of them have the potential to create human life, one little abbreviation for you, DNA, its truly magical stuff, I recommend reading a few books on it, they might be a revelation!

Accumulating Excessive Wealth – Well, this one is unclear too, perhaps I need an example, oh yes, the Catholic Church, how refreshing, honesty at last.

Inflicting Poverty – I must be stupid or something, I feel I need concrete examples to help me understand the deeper meaning of these sins. In this case perhaps denying the rights of women to control their own fertility thereby keeping them under the yoke of male domination and in the grip of poverty might provide just the ticket? If I’m not mistaken Sister Theresa of Calcutta was the expert in this field, and although she didn’t actually believe any of the nonsense of the Catholic Church, she was very keen on poverty and keeping people in it so that they remained subservient to the Catholic Church, something that is exposed pretty conclusively in Christopher Hitchens book, “The Missionary Position” a good read!

Drug Trafficking & Consumption – Can’t argue with this, although I’m slightly uncomfortable about what the main causes of drug consumption are, feelings of helplessness caused by poverty perhaps caused by over population and poor environments, rebellion against irrational authority, are we really saying that the silly teenager who takes a quick drag on a joint will pay for that with eternal suffering in hell, seems a bit stiff? I can’t help thinking that since humans have been taking drugs of one kind or another since long before the Catholic Church existed and probably will long after it disappears, it would seem like this is more complicated than this black and white statement seems to suggest.

Morally Debatable Experiments – Ah ha! I feel we are well and truly back in the comfort zone with this one; remove ambiguity by introducing the qualifier of “Morality”, no one can argue with that can they. Hold on though, who decides what is moral and what is not, oh yes I remember.

Of course, morality is God given isn’t it, so it’s infallible, much like all the Popes have been, well, err, um, apart from Limbo, Slavery, vaccination, woman’s rights, evolution, abortion, contraception, cosmology etc. etc. I know, perhaps we could say that religion itself is a morally debatable “thought control” experiment now there is a topic worthy of a good argument.

Violation of Fundamental Rights of Human Nature – A couple of questions on this one, (sheesh, what a dummy I am!) since we mentioned cosmology in the previous point, I can’t resist mentioning Galileo, were his rights violated? Do woman have the right to abort an unborn foetus? “Violation” is such a tricky term isn’t it, are children "violated" when they have the penis of a Catholic priest inserted into one of their bodily orifices against their will? is homosexuality part of “human nature”, if it were, would denying it be a violation of rights? questions, questions.

It would seem that these so called “sins” aren’t so clear cut as they first appear, for myself, I tend to be old-fashioned when it comes to ethics, it seems to me that certain ethics were much clearer before the Catholic (or Christian) Churches existed, the Chinese and the Greeks seemed to have a much better handle on the basics long, long ago, after all, most of Christian “ethics” are based on what came before, and most of what we have now has been codified after the enlightenment. I’m quite happy with a secular, democratic, evolutionary approach to ethics, if I ever broke the law, I wouldn’t want any jury to judge me based on any of the tenets of “revelation”, “authority” or “tradition”, they simply haven't stood the test of time in my view.

When we finally realise that morality comes from humans and not from magical sky dwelling entities or "special" books, and that what is right and wrong changes and evolves over time as we do, we will have truly figured something out for ourselves as a species.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ronnie Barker corner..

News just in, the merger of Hinduism and Judaism (Hinjewism) has not worked out as planned, as instead of forming a super-religion to fight off the common Islamic enemy, they have instead created a race of 900 million people who, no matter how many times they are reincarnated, can never please their mothers....

Sod's law, you know it makes sense...

Found this little site, it looks like a UK version of the US based onion, its funny, for example here

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Joke du jour

I decided that I need more humour, so here is a joke,

Hear the one about the bloke standing in line at a bookshop signing, he got killed in a freak accident when a lump of frozen aircraft waste that came crashing through the roof and hit him on the head; you could say...

The shit really hit the fan...

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Harrow

I thought I'd blog about something other than religion for a change; what better than that other grand staple of life, good food!

As a Valentines day treat we thought we'd try the Harrow at Little Bedwyn in Wiltshire (WEB site is here) for dinner, having read rave reviews of the establishment in Decanter magazine and clocking it's newly acquired Michelin star expectations were high. I can say without hesitation that we weren't disappointed.

The setting is slightly odd in that the restaurant is in what looks like an old house set in a row of houses in a country lane, inside, the dividing walls that marked out the original rooms are still in place giving it a "homey" snug feel and dividing everything up into at least 3-4 separate eating compartments. There's a central bar, offering the usual pre-dinner range of drinks and nuts etc. everyone was welcoming and friendly, although this doesn't come across as "formal" compared to other starred establishments.

The place has a slightly "lived in" feel to it; freshly delivered boxes of wine litter the corridors and the halls, in fact wine plays a central role here, the owners are self confessed wine geeks (just my kind of place!) - the list is extensive and reasonably priced, big oz section, fair Bordeaux and Burgundy, good new world nothing too outrageous and some really interesting/unusual wines into the bargain, mark-up reasonably predictable at around 50-100%. I quickly engaged the barman in a "wine" conversation, and selected the slightly off-beat Domaine de Trevallon (1996) to have with our meal, generously he took me on a little tour of his cellar... nice touch I thought.

We selected the full menu gourmand, about 8 courses which came in at £60 per head, you could have a selection of (icon) wines with it for £120 a head which looked interesting, but I was driving so couldn't indulge myself. The food came quickly and looked good, first off we had a little cup of artichoke soup followed by tuna wrapped in that Japanese seaweed/paper like stuff with ginger and wasabi (interesting, but a red wine no-go zone); next up was black pudding, scallops and foie gras (yum, delightful combination), following this was turbot with mushrooms (ok) then the main course which was Venison on a bed of bashed neeps which was simple and delicious. Cheese followed the main, I was glad to see some English cheeses getting air time along with the more usual French varieties, then the mini-bread and butter puddings which were to die for.

After that little lot we were feeling very full; we skipped coffee etc. to make a quick get away since we had a 45 minute drive home, note to diary, definitely need to re-visit this with some wine geek friends and make sure suitable B&B accommodation is on hand!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mr Brown.. he say.. NO!

Ever received an email from "10 Downing St."?

I had that dubious pleasure today and I must admit it did cause me to double take my inbox and sent a mild panic wave through me (did I remember to post that tax return...?). The email in question was actually a response to an e-petition I signed ages ago about faith schools, the details of the petition were as follows,

"Faith schools remove the rights of children to choose their own religious, philosophical and ethical beliefs. They also sanction ethnic segregation and create tension and divisiveness within society. Schools should be places where children are given a free education, not centres for indoctrination. Creationism and other religious myths should not be taught as fact regardless of the funding status of a school. Abolishing faith schools will provide children with more freedom of choice and help to promote a fully multi-cultural, peaceful society."

The idea clearly was to remove the "indoctrination" element from the education system for reasons of social cohesion and anti-segregation, notice this doesn't mean that children can't be indoctrinated at home if their parents or guardians so wish.

The response from the Government was as follows:

"The Government remains committed to a diverse range of schools for parents to choose from, including schools with a religious character or "faith schools" as they are commonly known.

Religious Education (RE) in all schools, including faith schools, is aimed at developing pupils' knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country. It encourages respect for those holding different beliefs and helps promote pupils' moral, cultural and mental development. In partnership with national faith and belief organisations we have introduced a national framework for RE.

In February 2006, the faith communities affirmed their support for the framework in a joint statement making it clear that all children should be given the opportunity to receive inclusive religious education, and that they are committed to making sure the framework is used in the development of religious education in all their schools and colleges.

The Churches have a long history of providing education in this country and have confirmed their commitment to community cohesion. Faith schools have an excellent record in providing high-quality education and serving disadvantaged communities and are some of the most ethnically and socially diverse in the country. Many parents who are not members of a particular faith value the structured environment provided by schools with a religious character."

IMO This response simply skirts around the entire central point of the petition not touching any aspect of it, what can you expect from politicians I suppose, but as a response it is somewhat disappointing.

In essence what HM Gov. is saying is that faith schools must teach some "comparative" religion as part of their curriculum (although it is not clear if this is mandatory), however each particular faith school can still legally qualify any statement about any religion with "this is what they believe but of course they are still wrong and we are right", it seems to be all about the parents and facilitating the tacit support within our education system of the passing on of their personal mythologies, no one seems to be asking the obvious question, what do the kids actually need.

Plus ca change ..

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Next time someone says...

"Yeh but there are millions of (insert religion of your choice) believers so there must be something in it"

Remind them how many "dead gods" there are, you know, gods that throughout our collective history people (often millions of them) have revered, worshipped, feared, slaughtered for and even sacrificed to, but are now dead. Here is a quick list to get you started it covers at least 500 of the better known ones, but the total estimate is around 20,000 - food for thought.


Aa, Aah, Abil Addu, Addu, Adeona, Adjassou-Linguetor, Adjinakou, Adya Houn'tò, Agassou, Agé, Agwé, Ahijah, Ahti, Aizen Myō-ō, Ajisukitakahikone, Ak Ana, Aken , Aker , Äkräs, Aku, Allatu, Altjira, Amano-Iwato, Ame-no-Koyane, Am-heh, Amihan, Amon-Re, Amun, Amurru, Anapel, Anath, Andjety, Anhur, Anit, Anu, Anubis, Apsu, Arianrod, Ash , Ashtoreth, Assur, Astarte, Aten, Atum, Ayida-Weddo, Ayizan, Azaka Medeh, Azaka-Tonnerre, Azumi-no-isora, Baal, Bacalou, Badessy, Bagadjimbiri, Bahloo, Baiame, Bakunawa, Bamapana, Banaitja, Ba-Pef, Baron Cimetière, Baron La Croix, Baron Samedi, Barraiya, Bata , Bathala, Bau, Beltis, Beltu, Belus, Bernardo Carpio, Bes, Biamie, Bilé, Binbeal, Boli Shah, Bossou Ashadeh, Budai, Budai, Bugady Musun, Bugid Y Aiba, Bunjil, Cai Shen, Ceros, Chenti-cheti, Chi You, Chimata-No-Kami, Chun Kwan, Cihang Zhenren, City god, Clermeil, Congo (loa), Consus, Cronos, Cunina, Dagan, Dagda, Dagon, Daikokuten, Damballa, Dan Petro, Dan Wédo, Dauke, Dea Dia, Dhakhan, Diable Tonnere, Diana of Ephesus, Diejuste, Dimmer, Dinclinsin, Dragon King, Dragon King of the East Sea, Duamutef, Dumu-zi-abzu, Ea, Ebisu, Edulia, El, Elali, Elder Zhang Guo, Elum, Engurra, Enki, Enma, En-Mersi, Enurestu, Erlang Shen, Erzulie, Ezili Dantor, Fan Kuai, Fei Lian, Feng Bo, Four sons of Horus, Fu Lu Shou, Fu Xi, Fūjin, Fukurokuju, Furrina, Futsunushi, Gasan lil, Gasan-abzu, Goibniu, Gong Gong, Govannon, Gran Maître, Grand Bois, Guan Yu, Guangchengzi, Gunfled, Gwydion, Hachiman, Hadad, Hakudo Maru, Han Xiang, Hapi, Hapy, Heka , Hemen, Hermanubis, Hermes , Heryshaf, Hoderi, Hongjun Laozu, Hoori, Horus, Houyi, Huang Feihu, Hung Shing, Iah, Ibong Adarna, Iku-Turso, Ilmarinen, Ilmatar, Ilmatar, Imhotep, Imset, Iron-Crutch Li, Isis, Istar, Isum, Iuno Lucina, Izanagi, Jade Emperor, Jar'Edo Wens, Ji Gong, Julana, Jumala, Jupiter, Juroujin, Kaawan, Kagu-tsuchi, Kalfu, Kalma, Kara Khan, Karora, Kerridwen, Khaltesh-Anki, Khepri, Khnum, Khonsu, Kidili, Kini'je, Kitchen God, Kneph, Kōjin, Ksitigarbha, Kui Xing, Kuk, Kumakatok, Kuski-banda, Kuu, Ku'urkil, Lagas, Lan Caihe, Lei Gong, Leizhenzi, Lemminkäinen, Lempo, Ler, Li Jing , L'inglesou, Llaw Gyffes, Lleu, Loco (loa), Lü Dongbin, Lugal-Amarada, Maahes, Ma-banba-anna, Mademoiselle Charlotte, Maîtresse Délai, Maîtresse Hounon'gon, Maman Brigitte, Mamaragan, Mami, Mamlambo, Manawyddan, Mandulis, Mangar-kunjer-kunja, Marassa Jumeaux, Marduk, Maria Cacao, Maria Makiling, Maria Sinukuan, Marinette, Mars, Marzin, Matet boat, Mayari, Mbaba Mwana Waresa, Meditrina, Mehen, Melek, Memetona, Menthu, Merodach, Mider, Mielikki, Min , Molech, Mombu, Morrigu, Mounanchou, Mulu-hursang, Mu-ul-lil, Muzha , Na Tuk Kong, Nana Buluku, Naunet, Nebo, Nehebkau, Nergal, Nezha , Nga, Nin, Ninib, Ninigi-no-Mikoto, Nin-lil-la, Nin-man, Nio, Nirig, Ni-zu, Njirana, Nogomain, Nuada Argetlam, Numakulla, Num-Torum, Nusku, Nu'tenut, Nyyrikki, Odin, Ogma, Ogoun, Ogoun, Ogyrvan, Ohoyamatsumi, Ōkuninushi, Omoikane (Shinto), Ops, Osiris, Pa-cha, Pangu, Papa Legba, Peko, Perkele, Persephone, Petbe, Pie (loa), Pluto, Potina, Ptah, Pugu, Pundjel, Pwyll, Qarradu, Qebehsenuef, Qin Shubao, Qingxu Daode Zhenjun, Ra, Raijin, Randeng Daoren, Rauni , Resheph, Rigantona, Robigus, Royal Uncle Cao, Ryūjin, Saa, Sahi, Samas, Sarutahiko, Saturn, Sebek, Seker, Serapis, Sesmu, Shakpana, Shalem, Shangdi, Shango, Sharrab, Shen , Shennong, Shezmu, Shina-Tsu-Hiko, Simbi, Sin, Sirtumu, Sobek, Sobkou, Sōjōbō, Sokk-mimi, Sopdu, Sousson-Pannan, Statilinus, Suijin, Suiren, Suqamunu, Susanoo, Tagd, Taiyi Zhenren, Tala, Tam Kung, Tammuz, Tapio, Tenenet, Tengu, Tenjin, Theban Triad, Thoth, Ti Jean Quinto, Ti Malice, Tian, Ti-Jean Petro, Tilmun, Todote, Toko'yoto, Tomam, Tu Di Gong, Tu Er Shen, Tuonetar, Tuoni, Ubargisi, Ubilulu, U-dimmer-an-kia, Ueras, Ugayafukiaezu, U-ki, Ukko, UKqili, Umai, U-Mersi, Umvelinqangi, Ungud, Unkulunkulu, Ura-gala, U-sab-sib, Usiququmadevu, U-Tin-dir-ki, U-urugal, Väinämöinen, Vaisravana, Vaticanus, Vediovis, Vellamo, Venus, Vesta, Wadj-wer, Wen Zhong , Weneg, Wenshu Guangfa Tianzun, Wepwawet, Werethekau, Wollunqua, Wong Tai Sin, Wuluwaid, Xargi, Xaya Iccita, Xevioso, Xuan Wu , Yama, Yau, Yemaja, Youchao, Yuanshi Tianzun, Yuchi Jingde, Yunzhongzi, Zagaga, Zaraqu, Zer-panitu, Zhang Guifang, Zheng Lun, Zhongli Quan, Zhu Rong and Zonget.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Why don't Christian apologists use Google?

I recently came across this article by someone called “Mal Fletcher”, it so expertly summarised the ignorance of Christian apologetics and faith oriented criticism of Atheism in general, that I felt I had to share it, my comments are offered below each quote (in italics) from his article. There is nothing new here, all his points are easily refuted by a quick Google and a bit of research, so why didn't he use it?

"There are no easy answers to this conundrum. However, it is worth noting that atheism offers us no explanation for the presence of evil in the world or any hope for the eventual redemption and restoration of the natural order - both of which Christianity does."

Unlike Christianity, atheism does not claim to offer “explanation” of anything because it is not a dogmatic belief system; atheism is simply a lack of belief in any God or Gods, full stop, that’s it. Anything else attributed to Atheism by this Author exists only in his head! My question would be, so what does Christianity “explain” exactly?

IMO Christianity “explains” precisely nothing, it simply states without evidence that “(our) god did it all”, in what way is that a satisfying explanation to anything in the same way that “science” explains “you need antibiotics to cure the bacterial infection that is killing your new born baby”.

Google "definition of atheism"

"However, as I once respectfully pointed out to the then head of BBC Religion (TV), Sir David constantly presents a world-view which assumes that there is little place for Christian faith in the world of reliable science."

So could the author explain what the Christian faith materially provides to the world other than a delusion that makes it’s followers “feel better”?, oh and before someone says “ah but what about all the charitable works”, you don’t need to be Christian to do good things, so what is their motivation? Think about it.

Google "atheism morality"

"The inference for the audience is that the natural world, when viewed with an informed eye, speaks against religious faith - especially the Christian faith."

No, “reality” more often than not turns out to be different from the various “holy books” and teachings of the Abrahamic religions, pretty much every major advance in science over the last 400 years has been fought for in the teeth of Religious opposition, from Galileo onwards.

The natural world reveals itself to operate without the need for divine intervention. Christians hate that like small children hate being told they can’t have a sweetie. Get over it Mal, reality isn’t like TV where you can simply switch channel if you don’t like what’s on, its the believer’s problem to "explain" how their belief is true, not the scientists. Science progresses based on evidence and peer reviewed, repeatable experimentation which validates behavioural predictions about how the "real" world operates, Christians are stuck with a 2000 year old desert dogma no matter how they try to spin it.

Google "scientific errors bible"

"For a sizeable body of scientists today, the incredible complexity of our universe suggests the work of a creator of some kind. They reject the idea, softly "preached" by people like Sir David, that the intricacy of nature and its finely tuned balances can be attributed simply to random chance."

What “sizeable body”, please provide evidence. It is fact that 98% of the members of the academy of science (the elite science body in the USA) are atheists, which alone speaks volumes.

Not a single (serious) scientist says that the diversity and sophistication of nature is due to “random chance” this is simply an ignorant and stupid thing to say and reveals a total lack of understanding of evolution and how it works. The author should read a few books and educate himself; evolution is the opposite of “random” it is utterly guided by the strongest force in nature, natural selection, i.e. you survive and pass on your genes or you die, nothing random about that.

Google "Atheism leading scientists"

"Darwinism can offer no credible theory for how life could have emerged naturally from nonliving chemicals. Earth's early atmosphere would have blocked the development of the building blocks of life, and assembling even the most primitive living matter would be so outrageously difficult that it absolutely could not have been the product of unguided or random processes. On the contrary, the vast amount of specific information contained inside every living cell - encoded in the four-letter chemical alphabet of DNA - strongly confirms the existence of an Intelligent Designer who was behind the miraculous creation of life." Indeed, Darwin himself was a theist when published the first edition of "The Origin of Species" was published. He later changed his mind, of course."

Well indeed, “Darwinism” (a ridiculously "made up" word BTW) does not make any predictions about how life emerged as it is a theory of evolution, not instantiation. That branch of science is called “Abiogenesis” and has its own theories (read a few books for pity sake!). Again, the author is revealing his complete ignorance of this subject.

Google "Abiogenesis"

"Yet it was not hard physical evidence from his much-touted fossil record that led Darwin away from religious faith; it was the personal pain of losing a much loved daughter and failing to find any comfort in institutional religion."

In the early 19th century pretty well everyone in the UK was a Christian, that doesn’t mean Christianity was any more or less “true” then than now, the fact that Darwin was a Christian is utterly predictable and totally irrelevant, the author is trying to make a misleading association between the “idea” and the “person” a classic straw man tactic that is without merit.

Google "Darwin faith"

"The point is that Darwin's rejection of faith was down to subjective factors, rather than pure science. Like the rest of us, scientists base their views not just on the facts before them, but on the assumptions they make about the facts; assumptions which will be coloured to some degree by emotion and personal bias."

That is why science has a peer review process which eliminates bias; again illustrating a childish understanding of the process the author is trying to fit science into a “faith based” world view and thinks he has achieved something interesting when he discovers it doesn’t.

Google "scientific process"

"Hoyle wrote a book entitled "The Intelligent Universe", in which he said that the idea that life originated through some random arrangement of molecules is, "as ridiculous and improbable as the proposition that a tornado blowing through a junkyard may assemble a Boeing 747." One of the world's greatest cosmologists, Hoyle started out as an atheist, but became a Christian."

The Boeing 747 argument was blown out of the water years ago, to see it being used here is kind of "quaint" but on the other hand pathetic, evolution simply doesn’t work like this; in any case attempting to explain life using something even more unlikely and improbable (i.e. a sky-fairy God) is logically laughable. This is just the "evolution is random" argument re-packaged to be more poetic, it's still wrong, clearly Hoyle understood bugger all about evolutionary Biology.

Google "747 argument"

"Albert Einstein, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1921, and by no means a Christian, wrote: "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we must feel humble." Einstein believed, he said, in a "God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists."

Einstein was a Deist as are many leading scientists, this is well documented. This well trodden piece of “quote mining” is futile, Einstein also said he didn’t believe in a “God” that interferes in the affairs of man, and that his “God” was the “God” of Spinoza i.e. simply a label he gave to “nature” nothing to do with Christianity, again.

Google Spinoza!

"A growing number of modern scientists are coming to share this belief. In fact, in just about every major discipline of science, there is solid support for a theistic view of the origins of the universe."

“A growing number” – please provide evidence, the author is simply making this up! Of course, there is the “discovery institute” a Christian funded pseudo-scientific organisation that attempts to promote something called “intelligent design”, this nonsense has been literally thrown out of court (Dover trial) in the USA, it is not science, it is religion re-packaged as science in order to deliberately confuse people, and I thought Christians were supposed to be moral?

Google "Dover Trial"

"Catholic writer George Sim Johnson notes that: "Human DNA contains more organized information than the Encyclopaedia Britannica. If the full text of the encyclopaedia were to arrive in computer code from outer space, most people would regard this as proof of the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence. But when seen in nature, it is explained as the workings of random forces."

Rubbish, DNA is a digital code based on a quadnary system of chemical bases, the encyclopaedia Britannica is not and is entirely different, the two cannot be compared directly this is a false analogy.

Google "DNA information"

"Many of science's most revered pioneers went further than adopting a general theistic view. They specifically believed in the God of the Bible. They took the Christian Scriptures seriously."

Mainly because the faith-heads would burn them alive if they didn’t – convincing argument hey?

Google "Spanish Inquisition"

"Among them were such notables as Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Linnaeus, Faraday, Kelvin, Lister, Mendel and many others. And there is a strong Christian presence within the scientific community today: more than a few scientists have come to faith because of their study of the natural order. Indeed, one can argue that modern Western science was born out of a Judeao-Christian world-view, three centuries before the rise of Darwinism."

Oh please, not the “random” thing again. Does it really surprise anyone that scientists living 200-300 years ago were (supposedly) Christian?, is the author forgetting that “Blasphemy” was a crime punishable by prison and in some cases death in those days, what a pathetic argument. Actually, Newton was also into Alchemy, does that mean Alchemy must be right as well? Again, the author is confusing the ideas with the people, classic straw man tactic.

First of all this Author is attempting to trash science and scientists, now he’s trying to take credit for it; please, make your mind up! Any scholar knows that “Science” was born in ancient Greece, long before the “desert religions” were invented by men. It seems to be characteristic of faith-heads that the more outrageously infeasible a claim is (like God) the more they believe it – strange that.

Google "origin of science"

"As C. S. Lewis observed, people only became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law because they believed in a lawmaker. Getting back to Sir David's comments: I do not for a moment believe that television, or any publicly funded medium, should become a pulpit for preaching. He is, of course, entitled to his views. Yet there appears to be very little attempt on the part of mainstream broadcasters to offer any countervailing viewpoint."

So what exactly is the countervailing viewpoint? “God did it” – that would be a very short program wouldn’t it?

"There should be a place where supposedly "mainstream" scientific ideas (which are not always as mainstream, or as up-to-date as they make out) can be challenged and opposing viewpoints given a fair hearing. Sir David is being given £800,000 to make each episode of a new series entitled "Life in Cold Blood". No doubt, for their portrayal of life in the wild they will be brilliant, even exhilarating; filmed in exotic locations, they will be shot and edited using the very latest production equipment and a production team featuring some very committed and creative people. Meanwhile, theistic and Christian voices are only ever heard in more sterile, studio-based, debate-style situations that are made on a shoestring budget. Not surprisingly, given their budgets and promotion, they're watched by relatively few."

If this article is indicative of the Christian viewpoint then clearly Christians have absolutely nothing new or interesting to say, just the same old ignorance, error and prejudice. Is the author seriously suggesting that “the church” (say for example the Roman Catholic Church) is not wealthy enough to make a simple television program?, why not?, perhaps they should sell a palace or two and get cracking, I always enjoy a good comedy!