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.