Monday, November 30, 2009

Public money for private bigotry?

I read with dismay and depression that the Government has been shipping cash into a "faith" school in my home county of Berkshire (Slough) and another in Haringey (London) I am especially upset because it turns out that one of the governors of a funding charity related to these schools and perhaps one of its head teachers is a member of a radical Islamic organisation (Hizb ut-Tahrir).

Now there is much controversy surrounding this story, the Conservatives raised it in the house of commons and Labour are now scurrying around throwing up chaff and trying to cover the tracks. Actually, I couldn't care less about the specifics of these reports, the fact that some relativist Labour drone is arguing with a vote craving Conservative one about who said what, when is secondary in my view. The  real meat of this story is about the schools and what they teach the children, any faith school that receives money from the tax payer should be open to scrutiny and accountable to our standards. What I would insist Ed Balls tells me is not where the money came from or how he determines the suitability of school governors, I want to know what is being taught to these children. Mr Balls is keen to throw an accusation of "divisiveness" at the Tories but what could be more divisive than a "faith" school, that's the whole point of them!

So, Mr Balls, please tell, what exactly are these kids being taught when we look at key stage 1 and key stage 2 of the curriculum, how should Islamic schools like this represent the values of Sharia supporting governors like the ones in this story and why is it not divisive for them to do it?

As a thought experiment, I wonder how "Islamic" curriculum notes would look compared to standard ones?

Literacy - requires adjustment to exclude certain poetry units and all use of drama
Science - drop units concerning life processes, especially reproduction, adaptation and evolution
Music - oh deary no..
Sex and Relationship Education - not likely...
RE - cancel the Jewish temple visit, throw all those bibles in the bin
PE - lessons will be segregated by gender, and the dance units completely removed
Art - probably would have to go entirely
Humanities - reduce to a discussion of the history and geography of the Caliphate
Modern Foreign Languages -  Qur'anic Arabic is modern enough
PHSE - of course not!

So when will this Government actually focus on the real issue here which is the education (not indoctrination) of children, and abandon its transparent attempt to capture Muslim votes through divisive apologetics, I'm not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Theists get the boot at Wellington..

Just back from the Intelligence squared debate at Wellington college where the motion was that "Atheism is the new fundamentalism", against we had Richard Dawkins and AC Grayling, for were Richard Harries (Bishop of Oxford) and Charles Moore (ex editor of the Telegraph) For the quick version it was a complete rout for the Atheists, for those wanting a more considered review, see below.

The debate kicked off with Richard Harries speaking for the motion; I like Harries in the same way I like an old pair of shoes or a faithful old Labrador, he is clearly a very gentle, thoughtful person but like an old dog he seemed unable to learn new tricks. His argument boiled down to an appeal to tradition, those nasty “new atheists” are just nasty because they don’t believe what we all do, I mean, look at the poetry, the music, the churches. He went on to dither about the “the grand perhaps”; it’s all about the mystery, apparently.

Next up was Grayling, a thoughtful, gentle man, softly spoken but armed with a fearsome armoury of knowledge on philosophy, general history and the history of religion. Grayling struggled against the drumming of the rain falling on the tin roof of the sports hall at Wellington; it seemed for a moment like someone didn’t want the man to be heard, celestial censorship perhaps? However this only added to the gravitas of his words he came across as a voice of steadfast calm and rationality against the tired and oh so predictable Atlantic depression of religious indignation.

Then we had Moore, I think he lost the debate for his side within the first few minutes, an awfully misjudged ad-hominem attack on Dawkins; Godwin’s law was invoked by Moore comparing Dawkins to a prison guard shooting people caught in the spotlight of science; he just came across as an oafish bullying Christian, arrogant, self assured and intellectually out gunned.

Dawkins gained the podium to a standing ovation; clearly there were a lot of fans in tonight! He was sharp, on form, quick witted and didn’t stoop to the Ad hominem that his opponents did. It was interesting to contrast the style of Dawkins and Grayling, they say exactly the same thing but Grayling does it in a softer less frantic manner which I think made him man of the match tonight.  No particularly new arguments from the big D, but as ever he was clear and concise about what he thinks. Harries did make one fairly fundamental blunder, accusing RD of being fundamental in saying that God definitely does not exist, this would be true if Dawkins actually says this, however as he pointed out there is a whole chapter devoted to this question in the God Delusion explaining why he doesn't say it.

Then came the questions from the floor, most were good, most were aimed at the Atheist camp, Grayling was particularly coherent and amusing, Harries was pleasant but not as convincing, Dawkins was passionate as ever but Moore seemed disinterested and petulant by this stage. In the end the votes were counted and the motion was opposed by 1070 votes to 363; surprising for sleepy, conservative Crowthorne on a blustery Sunday night.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Don't take it lying down

This is how you interview an unelected busy-body trying to insert his religious dogma into policy and law.

A great example of how to respect the person but not unconditionally respect the ideas because of a dog collar, for many people this will be uncomfortable to watch, but it's not watching that counts it's listening to the words and understanding the implications of what is being said. This man says that if he were "in power" he would criminalise abortion, yes that's right, if a woman was gang raped, fell pregnant and then felt compelled to have an abortion he would throw her into jail for that.

I wish more mainstream interviewers had the balls to challenge the ideas of so called "religious leaders" in this way.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


If I was the sceptical sort I would say that this story is fake, but then again when religion and theocracies are concerned the boundary between reality and utter lunacy becomes less easy to spot.

The story is about some poor bugger from the Lebanon who visited Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage and was subsequently arrested for "witchcraft". The basis for this rather interesting charge was that the man in question Ali Sibat appeared regularly on Lebanese satellite TV issuing general advice on life and making predictions about the future, apparently there have been two other such cases in Saudi this month alone, the sentence for this charge can be death.

Since our Government seems so keen to bend over backwards to accommodate Muslim apologists, perhaps we could adopt this little "cultural" quirk here in the UK along with Sharia law? One thing is for sure though, such a move might make deciding to take an umbrella with you to work in the morning a little more hit and miss.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Yay, I'm still alive!

I read with excitement that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern was booted up this weekend and actually collided some protons, guess what, no black holes, no cataclysmic explosions, no warping of the space-time continuum, that's lucky then...

My only concern is that the scientist in the picture is holding a Macbook, since when did self respecting physicists start using fashion accessories to do science (ducks and runs for cover :)

Collision, a review

I watched a little film last night called "Collision", its a documentary covering a series of debates by Christopher Hitchens and evangelist theologian Douglas Wilson. Its shot in a choppy artistic style, lots of high colour contrast and black & white shots of city buildings and helicopters with a eclectic sound track comprising copious helpings of Metallica'esque heavy metal, it reminded me of a Warren Miller ski video.

Hitchens was his usual self, delivering arguments I've heard plenty of times before but interspersed with some interesting little "off camera" moments and quips. Douglas Wilson is not someone I know but he seems an interesting character, very assertive, well read and refreshingly honest about what he believes. Hitchens' clashes with Theists are usually one-sided affairs however this was slightly different. Wilson's depth of knowledge of literature helps him to almost hold his own against Hitchens, he gets some great one-liners and the editing is very sympathetic to Wilson. I say Wilson almost held his own because at the root of it Wilson's arguments were just the familiar apologetic standard bearers, "you can't know anything, especially what is moral without God" and the teleological argument, but when you drill in, both are really arguments from personal incredulity.

It's clear Wilson does not have a science background, neither does Hitchens, I was left hanging at several points in the film expecting an evolutionary science coups de grace to be delivered but those opportunities were missed, especially around the subject of why it is advantageous that human evolution has developed morality as an emergent property of the brain. Wilson's line on this was very weak, he believes that you can't account for morality unless you are a Christian which I'm sure tickled all the Muslims, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus in the audiences, never mind the Atheists.

All in all a reasonable way to pass an hour or so, the style of the film does get a little tired about half way through, I found myself wanting to fast forward bits in the middle. Wilson particularly repeats the same argument quite a few times in order to refute the multifaceted attacks of Hitchens, i.e. that it's not possible to actually "know" anything with certainty; it's probably a technically correct philosophical argument but of no practical use in reality and certainly no validation of any aspect of Christianity or belief in the supernatural in general. The film does however do a good job overall at presenting a good humoured and civilised appraisal of what is a clash of utterly incompatible world views.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

How to epically miss the point.

Times religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill penned a little missive in the Saturday edition about the BHS "don't label me" campaign. From the tone of the article it's fairly clear that Ms Gledhill thought she had scored an enormous coups, one in the eye for those self satisfied kuffar; in reality she simply encapsulated the kind of narrow minded, hypocritical, block headedness that the campaign seeks to raise conciousness about (God bless you Ruth!).

In the article Ms Gledhill asserts triumphantly that the children in the poster are the offspring of "celebrity" evangelical Christians and therefore the reason they look "happy" in the picture is evidently their Christianity, she re-quotes the father of the children who said about the shots that "the children's Christianity had shone through". From the look of the children in the picture they aren't actually children, they are babies, utterly oblivious to anything that their parents don't indoctrinate them with. The whole point of the campaign is that it doesn't matter what background the children are from, CHILDREN ARE NOT PROPERTY, this Vicars daughter from the backwaters of Staffordshire is proving precisely why such a campaign is needed.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Very pleased to note that this story gets some column inches on the BBC site today.

In a small victory for common sense against the juggernauts of religion and relativism lobbying by top scientists and humanists  has caused a u-turn in educational policy recently culminating in some important changes to the recent education bill. Now the subject of evolution is to become a compulsory element of the primary curriculum. I sincerely hope that for the sake of the children, a proper and accurate coverage of this topic will be enforced at "faith" schools, I am sceptical though, the Government spokesman was keen to stress that religious schools can teach the subject in a manner that is "sympathetic to the ethos of the school". In my mind this equates to a cop out, science is science there is no "ethos" about it, teach the kids the facts, full stop!

Not teaching evolution at this early stage represents a serious impediment to subsequent life-science teaching, nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution, it is as foundational as arithmetic and times-tables are to mathematics. I wrote a letter to my MP about this earlier this year and got a stock "dear John" letter back; at the time I felt it was a futile effort, now I feel encouraged, I feel like I need to get more active about things like this. Institutionalised conventions which seem bogged down with tradition and vested interests can actually be changed after all.

More "don't label me" campaign spill over

Positive this time..

Thanks to Jesus & Mo. a cartoon series with it's finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reactions to "don't label me" campaign

I came across some early reactions from religious people in Belfast regarding the BHA "don't label me" campaign today, here they are plus some comments from me (as you'd expect)..

Reverend David McIlveen from the Free Presbyterian Church frothed:

"It is none of their business how people bring up their children. It is the height of arrogance that the BHA would even assume to tell people not to instruct their children in their religion."

Well, that's plum coming from a Christian in a "Christian" country that legislates communal prayer in all schools (regardless of the wishes of parents) .. pot, kettle, black perhaps?

Sheikh Anwar Mady from the Belfast Islamic Centre said:

"We believe that every child is born as a Muslim. Religion is not given by the family, but it is a natural religion given by our God at birth. The role of the family is to teach the traditions of the faith. But that faith is implanted at birth."

Did you hear that folks, this man "believes" that we are all born Muslim, meaning that anyone who isn't a Muslim now is an Apostate and this crime is punishable by death. People wonder why secularists and Atheists are seriously concerned about Islam and it's spread around the world.

Dean of Belfast Dr Houston McElvey said:

"This humanist poster would have little impact on Christian believers. I am glad to live in a society where people have the right to express their point of view on a God in which I believe doesn’t need defending."

Me thinks Dr Houston has missed the point, he's confusing a comment regarding the human rights of children with an attack on his personal beliefs regarding supernatural entities, an easy mistake to make I suppose.

Fr Gary Donegan, from Holy Cross in north Belfast, said:

"I hope the campaign would open up debate on religious issues. One positive thing that could come from this is if it opens a debate on faith. I am not offended by it, but perhaps the money used for it could have been channelled better into a humanitarian cause."

Oh Gary you started so well, then couldn't resist the dig at the end, I guess it's hard for a leopard to change his spots. I could be childish and point out that the Pope's stock of Prada slippers probably costs more than this poster did, but that would be childish.

Looks like the campaign is having the desired effect! (which is to raise awareness, in case you weren't sure)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't label me

I love this new BHA poster, for me it encapsulates the real reason why religion is still here in the 21st century

The poster is part of a new campaign to counter publicly funded faith schools here in the UK. The main purpose of these schools of course is to assist the indoctrination process of children into a particular faith, by definition. Such institutions seem destined to divide and segregate communities, we need only look to Northern Ireland to see what the effect of generations of segregation does to the psyche of a nation.

Liberty, freedom and respect for human beings is an idea which we can all get behind, but when it comes to children a lot of people see this as somehow controversial?

The posters are up in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

Thought for the deity..

It is with some amusement that I see the BBC has rejected a claim by the NSS that the exclusively religious Radio 4 slot "Thought for the day" is discriminatory. I would have thought that it is discriminatory by definition being exclusive to a particular segment of our population but that could probably be said of most broadcast content. Having content that is targeted at a specific topic or interest group is fine in my opinion, I often enjoy listening to "thought for the day" on my way to work or dropping the kids off at school, we all hear it. Often the messages are useful reminders of real injustice or suffering going on in the world, things like famine, war and crime are commonly discussed, on the other hand often the messages are just puerile wish thinking. It's only 2 minutes so hardly the end of the world and so long as these thoughts are presented as points of view and not fact, i.e. people say things like "as a Christians I believe x" or "Muslims believe y" then I'm perfectly fine with it. In fact it often gives me an excellent opportunity to illustrate to my children how to distinguish between ideas that have evidence to support them and those that don't, perhaps not the intended purpose of the slot but a useful public education service never the less.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

10 enemies of reason

The new Humanist magazine recently announced the nominations for it's 2009 bad faith award; I took a look at it today and it surprised me to find that almost all the people mentioned in the article were people I have previously commented on, I thought it worthwhile to have a little re-cap here in my own modest bastion of anti-faith, so here are the top 10 bad faith-heads who by popular vote have contributed more than anyone else to decreasing our species average IQ.

1. Adnan Oktar, the Turkish Islamic anti-Darwin, creator of the "Atlas of Creation" an expensive, glossy, fruitless waste of trees. Oktar (who looks suspiciously like "the master" from Dr Who) produced and distributed free this book featuring photographs of fossils along-side their modern day equivalents in a pathetic attempt to "show" that animals have not evolved. Clearly the more awkward ones like Tiktaalik, Ambulocetus or Archaeopteryx were conveniently left out of the book. In fact the book is so bad that it compares a fossil fly with a picture of a fishing lure, apparently this is supposed to prove something? I claim an indirect tag for this one, pointing out back in March the difficulties in integrating Turkey into the EU because of such views.

2. Anjem Choudary, another Islamic bone-head who demands sharia law in the UK and has a WEB site that shows pictures of what famous UK buildings like Buckingham palace would look like after the Muslim revolution, I reported on him back in October.

3. Anthony Bush - A delusional Christian appears in third place, I tagged this chap back in August, he runs a pseudo educational farm/zoo near Bristol that is clearly just a front for creationist nonsense, teaching myths to children and calling it "science".

4. The British Chiropractic Association - not religious this time but equally delusional (or dishonest depending on your bent) This organisation won a court battle with Simon Singh a science correspondent who had the temerity to point out that the claims made by this organisation regarding their ability to cure a range of ailments from ear infections to asthma was "bogus". I reported on this back in June, the case has highlighted Briton as the "libel holiday" capital of the world, a sorry state of affairs.

5. Cormac Murphy O'Connor - Tagged back in May this atheist bashing cover up merchant took the concept of Catholic ignorance, hypocrisy and irony to new heights this year.

6. Dermot Aherne - In an Irish version of "back to the future" I caught this story in July; Dermot re-introduced blasphemy laws to Ireland under which anyone bad-mouthing religious shenanigans would be fined 25,000 Euro, mind boggling.

7. Damian Thompson - rabid Catholic mouthpiece and Telegraph blogger has a special place in his heart for atheists (for example he wants to burn an effigy of Stephen Fry on a bonfire) I haven't tagged him at all this year which is surprising since a quick review of his blog confirms to me that he probably does more damage to Catholicism than Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens combined.

8. Pope Benedict XVI - no list like this could be complete without his holiness, so many examples to choose from I tagged him several times this year, topic ranging from blaming atheists for global warming to denying the effectiveness of condoms in preventing AIDS, I still think he looks like the guy with the lightening fingers off star wars?

9. Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong, I can only count Karen in my article intersection, "attacking enlightenment values from the well-padded comfort of enlightenment institutions" seems to sum it up nicely.

10. Tony Blair, good old Tony Blair, prime minister, master of spin now turned anti-secularist and Catholic poster boy, I picked up this little gem from him last October, in which he says that religions should work together in the face of "an aggressive secular attack from without", the old cash from chaos ploy hey Tony, must be tough being off the gravy train.

Well, not too bad overall 8/9 people tagged from the winning nominations list, 2009 has clearly been a splendid year for the faithfool; make sure you vote for your favourite..

(Yay! 300 posts)

Indian spider man

I came across this today, no safety ropes, no crash mats and no net, what you might call an "unforgiving sport".

He needs to go on Wipeout!

Faith in faith...

AC Grayling is on the money as usual, in a scathing attack on John Denham in the Guardian yesterday he picks apart the logic of establishing a so called panel of religious "experts" to help shape Government policy. There are a couple of points in the piece that I hadn't considered which I've extracted in this post,

- Exactly what proportion of the population do "faith groups" actually represent, presumably this means church or mosque attending clergy and people, I thought that was less than 10% now, and getting smaller?

- What is it about the views and practices of the "faith based" groups that we don't know or don't understand? haven't we had a belly full of these views and methods over the last few thousand years?

- What exactly about "faith" based groups instils community cohesion, most of the time they are at each other's throats, even within Christianity there are huge schisms, if you pull out all of the "common" elements of these various religions, i.e. the ones that are universal then you are simply left with Humanism?

- Northern Ireland is a great case study for what happens when you promote faith schools, division, ghettoisation and entrenchment perpetuating ancient divisions, is this what we want more of?

- If the "panel" is assembled according to the actual religious demographics of this country then (assuming there are 20 people in it) it would look something like:

14 Christians (various flavours)
5 Non-religious
0.5 Muslims (presumably the top half?)
Various assorted hands, fingers, toes and other (smaller) body fragments

I'm sure Denham is simply towing the party line on this, so it probably isn't even his idea, however I also read that the Southampton  Itchen seat which JD represents is one considered by Labour to be "highly at risk" in the next general election, hopefully this turns out to be true!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Palin rejects swinging...

Sarah Palin, that darling of the right in the USA published her memoir recently, in it she claims not to believe in evolution, she says that she,

“didn’t believe in the theory that human beings — thinking, loving beings — originated from fish that sprouted legs and crawled out of the sea” or from “monkeys who eventually swung down from the trees.”

"Thinking, loving beings", doesn't sound like any Republicans I know? slimy creatures that are partial to a bit of swinging, maybe...

Then again I guess this viewpoint doesn't come as any great surprise, in 2006 she suggested in a TV debate that both creationism and evolution should be taught alongside each other in schools,

"It's OK to let kids know that there are theories out there, they gain information just by being in a discussion."

The "theory" of creationism, that's a good one, anyway, the most depressing thing about this little story is that we know this kind of reality denial and ignorance will have absolutely no bearing on her attempt to run for the presidency of the USA, people will still vote for her in the millions, sad really.

Different kinds of relics

The British museum is full of relics, really interesting ones, Egyptian mummies, Chinese ceramics and Mayan gold jewellery etc. The museum is a fabulous resource that lets us appreciate the contribution to Humanity that all the civilisations of our planet and (all) their peoples have made over recent millennia. This Month the British Museum is helping to kick off preparations for next year's LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans) History Month with a special event for teachers and youth workers. The event, will include LGBT-themed tours for local people in the morning with a training session for teachers and youth workers in the afternoon. Politicians attending the reception include Trevor Phillips, chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Ben Bradshaw MP, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Michael Cashman MEP and Cllr Keith Moffit, leader of Camden council.

In a fairly predictable response to this event another kind of relic has reared it's less interesting head, Stephen "birdshit" Green of the Christian Voice has written a scathing piece clearly buoyed up by a recent ruling by Lord Waddington that criticising homosexual conduct is not, in itself, a crime. I am actually quite glad that this ruling clarified the law on this for a couple of reasons, first and foremost I am pro free-speech and I believe we should be free to criticise any idea, secondly it give us "militant" atheists plenty of legal precedent to attack the kind of religious ignoramus who would attack innocent people on the basis of Bronze age ignorance and superstition, and lastly listening to the rabid frothing of Christians like Mr Green about subjects like this is such a rich source of irony and humour.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Just what we need...

I read with dismay that John Denham, the communities secretary has launched a "crusade" to get more superstition into our government, apparently we need more according to Mr Denham. In an interview with the daily Telegraph he talked about a new panel of "religious experts" that are to advise the government on making public policy decisions. He said,

"However, Mr Denham argued that Christians and Muslims can contribute significant insights on key issues, such as the economy, parenting and tackling climate change." 

One wonders what "special" insights a religious expert might have on climate change that either a climatologist or even a member of the general public might not have, or indeed how Hindu economics would differ from the Zoroastrian version. My belief is well and truly beggared at this pathetic and blatant vote grabbing move, this Government proves once again that it prioritises it's own crabby hide over what is right and fair for the majority of people in this country.

"I don't like the strand of secularism that says that faith is inherently a bad thing to have and should be kept out of public life,"

I suppose he's talking about me, a member of a clearly aggressive and dangerous sect who foolishly prefer that our Government provide privilege to no specific group, regardless what they do or don't believe without evidence. Most people in this country (or at least a significant proportion) have no strong religious belief, only a tiny fraction attend Church regularly so I wonder, is the panel going to include an atheist "expert", an agnostic "expert" or a humanist "expert", will the Islamic representative be a Woman or the Christian one a homosexual, I'm not holding my breath.

At this point I shall borrow the words from the NSS web site as they seem appropriate for Mr Denham,

Involving religious leaders also assumes that everyone of a particular religion speaks with one voice and these leaders represent a whole community. In some cases, women and minors are effectively voiceless as are those who see themselves as belonging broadly to a certain culture but who are not religious. A secular government is the only way of ensuring that every citizen is treated equally

Don't worry Mr Denham at the rate your party is going you haven't got much longer to worry about secularism or clinging onto power.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No chips on Saturdays!

Ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem staged a protest outside the offices of US electronics giant Intel; they were protesting about working on Saturdays which they call the Sabath apparently doing this upsets God. Fundamentalists  in Israel have become increasingly vocal in recent months and in keeping with the all inclusive perspective of religious fundamentalists the world over their aim is to stop all work on their holy day whether you believe in their particular superstitions or not. 

I suspect that the problem for most large scale manufacturers like this it costs more to shut down a plant and start it up again that it does simply to keep going, and people always like the opportunity to earn a little extra cash; perhaps if Intel were to engrave a little star of David on each silicone wafer made on Saturday then perhaps that would keep all the appropriate invisible entities happy?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What's Jesus got to do with it?

I'm sure everyone was appalled as I was to hear about the case of a 5 year old boy who was raped by a teenager in Manchester last year. What was particularly appalling about it was in addition to the crime it has emerged that this particular criminal committed a similar offence eight days previously for which he was released by Judge Adrian Smith with a just a community order, against professional advice from prosecutors and police.

From what I read it seems clear that this particular judge does seem to have a track record of dishing out lenient  sentences however there is speculation that one of the factors that the judge took into consideration in releasing this offender the first time was that his "Christian" parents had forgiven him and the Father in particular presented a case directly to the judge outlining his religious faith.

What I would really love to know is if the religion of the parents was actually a mitigating factor in the release and whether the Judge is also a Christian. The implications of these things if true are clearly far reaching and deserve further more detailed investigation by the Attorney general.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Engage or enrage?

I read today that in the Kordestan district of Iran the authorities there are scheduled to execute three men for the crime of "enmity against God", apostasy is clearly alive and well in Iran and people are still dying over it. For those unfamiliar with this medieval crime it essentially means that a person has decided to abandon their religion. In the case of Islam the punishment for this is unambiguous, it's death. Clearly there are regional politics wrapped up in this case as these men are Kurds from a region with a long history of violence and disagreement with the central government. So, should we just put this down to politics and leave it at that, or is it permissible to raise the issue of religion's role in this case, does it even have a role?

Then we have the case of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who gunned down 13 people at Fort Hood in the USA last week; having studiously avoided any mention of his religion when this story initially broke, the main stream media are now slowly relenting, the guy was a religious maniac. So, should we all tiptoe carefully around this delicate matter keep it under wraps out of respect for all the non-homicidal Muslims in the world?

No, religion is the elephant in the room, it really doesn't worry me how many moderate believers and apologists feel "uncomfortable" in confronting these issues, they are real and affect real people in this world (as opposed to some imaginary one) Contrary to what people thought in the 60s and 70s the influence of religion has been steadily growing and with it ever more extremism, division and tension.  If religion is being used as a smoke screen to obscure political mischief then it should be exposed, if religion is being used to justify or cover-up abuse then it should be exposed, if religion is providing cover for extremists then it should be exposed, if religion is making false promises then it needs to be exposed.

There is a social "spell" that has been cast over us all in the West, it perhaps has its roots in the post modernist haze in which we find ourselves, the spell says that religion is above criticism, that we should respect it unconditionally and carefully avoid any hint of offence when it followers step out of line and "go postal". You hear the term "bad apples" quite a lot, oh that Hasan he was just a bad apple, most Muslims wouldn't dream of doing anything like that, whilst this is statistically true it's not an answer. How many bad apples does it take before humanity seriously scrutinises how it cultivates its apples?

The spell needs to be broken, for everyone's sake, anyway we can.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Small victory for the enlightenment team

It looks like some serious lobbying by top scientists has finally paid off, the Government is now thinking about including evolution in the primary school curriculum for the first time.

It seems ridiculous I know but (I believe) thanks to institutional religious objection this vital subject has been omitted from the lives of primary school children in the UK since it was first discovered by Darwin over 150 years ago. Evolution is a central pillar to understanding our place in the universe and why we are here, nothing in Biology makes sense without it and it is utterly corrosive to (most) religious belief systems. Many religious people claim to be comfortable with Evolution, some even embellish it with quaint little superstitious plug-ins, but in my experience this is done because of the incontrovertible evidence and a desire not to look stupid rather than any deep and meaningful theological thinking. Most religious people I know refuse to accept the logical conclusions resulting from a proper investigation of evolution, i.e. that humans are not special, we do not have dominion over nature and that any purpose we have in our lives is put there by our evolved brains and not an omniscient superman in the sky.

Yeah but what about Hitler...

An excellent debate featuring Christopher Hitchens, Stephen Fry, Anne Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan, the motion was "Is the Catholic church a force for good in the world", the answer was a resounding "no".

I thought Fry was particularly coherent and fluent, it would be great if he did more of these as he makes a good spokesman for the Secular cause. John Onaiyekan was particularly poor, his argument seemed to almost entirely consist of the thought that the Church must be good and true because HE believed it; an almost comical stereotype of an arrogant clueless clergyman. Hitchens was his usual self, lucid and articulate and took no prisoners whilst Widdecombe was sincere but came across as horribly contradictory in her views and somewhat deluded/brainwashed.

A lot of the debate centred around those for the motion trying to list the good thinks that religious people do with veiled threats of "what would the world be like if we didn't send money to Africa" and the opposition listing the terrible things done over the centuries in the name of the Catholic Church. The only side seemingly able to lift it above a simple tally of good vs bad were the secular side who questioned the morality and purpose of the church when it had clearly gotten so many things wrong and continues to do so; this point was met with a wall of silence which was hard not to read as indifference.

If you are of a religious disposition, you're not going to enjoy this at all.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Standing up to religion

A good article yesterday in the Guardian by Russell Blackford, on the subject du jour which is secular or atheist tactics, should atheists be "respectful" of religion and is it ok you use humour and mockery to get across important points regarding the truth of religious promises and the desirability of the separation of church and state.

I particularly liked the following paragraph, for me it provides a perfect counter to the all to frequent whining of apologists that religion is true, good and harmless and we should offer it unconditional respect.

When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising — and totally justifiable — that atheists and skeptics question the source of this authority. If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into law?

Either one or more religions is true or they represent the biggest con job there has ever been and billions of people have been duped into wasting emotional enthalpy, time and resources when those things could have been better spent focusing on the betterment of society, self development and our fellow beings. Our existence on this planet is all too brief, we should care more about how we spend it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bat fluffers

I saw this article a while ago but then promptly forgot about it, however it cropped up again today, it's such a great piece of research that I just have to share it (where do these people get grants like this from??) Anyway, the subject is "Bat fellatio", it seems unlikely that anyone other than cat woman would utter those two words together but apparently our furry little cousins indulge in a bit of oral now and again too!

The purpose of this behaviour appears to be to prolong intercourse, you can read all the gory details here but essentially 14 out of 20 bat copulations filmed involved a blow job, on average it lasted roughly one twelfth the time of the entire act and those couplings that involved fellatio lasted approximately twice as long as those without.

I wonder if it would be "PC" to leave this research paper lying around the house?

You can tell it's Friday...

Someone in my office just sent me this little Venn diagram, very Hammer horror!

Jewish zombies from heaven, now there's a film that Mel Brookes should have made ...

Joke du jour

It's really hard to find decent atheist jokes but I came across this one today which is passable,

Q. How many Atheists does it take to change a lightbulb?
A. None, they don't bother since they can't see the light anyway...

Tough crowd, hello, hello, is this thing on ?

God grassed?

I couldn't help but be slightly amused at a story on the BBC today, although considering the subject perhaps I shouldn't be. The story concerns a man called George Maben who has been convicted of murder. George killed his pregnant girlfriends mother (we've all been there I'm sure) but George's mistake was that he prayed to his God for forgiveness and unfortunately for George that prayer was overheard by police who were bugging his car, doh!.

Silly old George, didn't he know that like celestial super routers most Gods can hear all the thoughts of all six billion people on this planet simultaneously with ease, he needn't have said a word! George now has plenty of time (13 years) for quiet reflection in order to establish a less verbal means of communication with his God.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Full frontal lobotomy?

Has AN Wilson had a full frontal lobotomy, or perhaps his recent article in the Daily Mail is more a case of a full bottle in front of me?

You really should (attempt to) read this article if you wish to witness the absurdity of the anti-scientific right wing mind in full flow, it should be used as a case study of religiously inspired cognitive dissonance.

Let's take a look at some of the stupidity on display

"The trouble with a 'scientific' argument, of course, is that it is not made in the real world, but in a laboratory by an unimaginative academic relying solely on empirical facts."

One wonders which "world" Mr Wilson thinks scientists do actually work in, Legoland perhaps? and I strain my tiny scientific brain thinking about what (other than empirical facts) he would like to base his arguments on, can Mr Wilson be seriously suggesting that he would prefer to base his arguments on instinct and blind prejudice?

Clearly what this scientifically illiterate hack is trying to say is that there are additional societal considerations involved in making decisions about things like drugs over and above the scientific data; you don't need to be a scientist to understand this and if he'd bothered to read the actual report he would realise that Prof. Nutt was fully aware of that fact also. However, Mr Wilson takes this argument a step further by suggesting that there are types of "knowledge" unavailable to scientists; in a typically theological style he does not elaborate what or where this knowledge comes from or indeed how one acquires it, but with a nudge and a wink makes it clear that he knows something about the universe that the rest of us don't.  He goes on to say,

"But there is an increasing presumption among many intelligent and good-hearted people that science is an absolute truth, that its methods of arriving at the truth are infallible and that scientists must be listened to at all times."

I don't know a single scientist who considers themselves to be "infallible", in fact the scientific method assumes the opposite from the outset, nothing in science is ever "proven". Religion is the only discipline in our lives that assumes itself infallible, the Pope for example publicly states as much, and you have to be pretty sure you are right about something in order to strap explosives to your chest and pull the trigger in the name of that belief.

Then there is a little dig at Biology (no doubt inspired by new atheists like Richard Dawkins), he says,

"The point here is not whether he was right or wrong - it was the way in which the scientific establishment closed ranks in order to assassinate him. There was a blanket denunciation of his heresy, just as there is if anyone dares to point out some of the mistakes made by that very fallible genius Charles Darwin."

Sorry Mr Wilson, you exhibit an epic failure of understanding of both the scientific method you criticise and the motivation of scientists; firstly you will not find a reputable scientist on the planet who would deny that Darwin was wrong about some things (amazingly few as it happens) in the last 150 years we have advanced evolutionary science beyond recognition, especially in areas concerning genetics and the cellular mechanisms of inheritance and development, palaeontology, zoology and behavioural science, Darwin's original theory has been re-visited, revised and added to over and over again. However the important fact here is that reality contradicts Wilson's view entirely. If science really was this intransigent then we wouldn't have modern medicine at all, we would be like Mr Wilson's religion, clinging onto a 2000 year old myth for all his solipsistic white knuckled pseudo-intellectual grip can afford him.

Perhaps Mr Wilson is a young earth creationist, does he think the Flintstones was actually a documentary?

Then we get the classic religious bait and switch trick, discredit your enemy by accusing him of your own kind of delusion, he says,

"Science rules - and it does so with just as much energy as the old Spanish Inquisition that refused to allow any creed other than Catholicism, and with the Inquisition's need to distort arguments and control the brains of men and women who might otherwise think for themselves."

This little missive screams "straw-man" fallacy, no one is distorting arguments, no one is suppressing anyone else's viewpoint and we certainly aren't burning people alive who don't agree with a particular piece of research. The data is there in the paper, it is clear and transparent as are the methods used to get it, if anyone can provide better data or a better method then they are perfectly at liberty to do so. Apologists like Wilson detest this fact of course, they are lazy and would prefer to base policy on knowledge derived from their own imagination which is opaque to everyone else, requires no justification and should be "respected"; even when it clearly contradicts reality.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cross about crosses

Interesting that the BBC chose to run this story on the news yesterday, it's about a recent ruling by European Court of Human Rights Judges that Crucifixes should be removed from school classrooms in Italy.

Crucifixes were required to be placed in classrooms back in the 1920s  when Catholicism was the state religion of Italy, the status of the church was diminished in 1984 but I guess the crosses remained. This is a really good decision in my view, the focus of the verdict was on the rights of the children rather than the rights of the parents (somewhat of a breakthrough in these kinds of cases!) however in predictably ironic responses the Christian apologists are claiming that the symbol is one of "love" (er, it's a man being tortured to death?) not divisive and not exclusive, how can they possibly claim this, are they living in an intellectual vacuum, so hypnotised by their beliefs that they cannot possibly step into the shoes of others, even for a moment?

When you put a poster showing the water cycle on the wall of a classroom you are saying to the children that this is a tested view of reality, even so this is something that is discussed and justified with evidence. Similarly for paintings or designs, it is clear that the content has a different meaning and purpose however the merits are similarly discussed; but what would it mean if you hung a flag in a classroom? For me this would mean we ARE Italian or American or whatever, no debate no question, similarly for a crucifix, to me it implies we ARE Christians full stop (this is entirely the intention of putting them there of course). The assumption that any particular religion can make this claim of young children is both laughable and contradictory to the whole purpose of education. Religions would clearly love to have the same status as nationalities (in some places they still do) but it cannot ever completely hold this position (you can't fool all the people all the time) because in reality it's just a set of ideas, ideas that can be chosen but not implied purely by birth.

Of course in the particular classroom that teaches religious education then all these symbols should be displayed and discussion encouraged about all of them, i.e. comparative religious studies should be central to any balanced education, a subtle but important distinction in my view. Schools should be places of learning, not places where vested interests of any kind are able to exercise a monopoly of thought over malleable minds, religion is a private matter for parents and children to address at home, anything else is indoctrination.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Check out those buns!

I'm feeling frivolous this morning and this little story presented an ideal opportunity, its a tale of misplaced morality and censorship concerning the beautiful Kelly Brook and a gorgeous pair of buns.

Kelly is staring in a new West End play concerning the exploits of a bunch of Women's Institute members who bare all for charity by making a nude calendar and selling it. The story became a smash hit a few years ago and spawned a film and copy-cat calendars up and down the country. Anyway, this story is about the promotional poster that was due to be pasted up at Underground stations, apparently Transport for London deemed that the iced buns designed to protect Ms Brook's modesty were not sufficiently "large" to actually do that, who's complaining I hear you ask!, apparently the B-buns should have been D-buns.

It seems incredible that someone actually gets paid to make this kind of assessment, you couldn't make it up, anyway take a look for yourself, here are the before and after shots.

Anyone offended?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Are you moral?

The Washington Post had a nice little article last week, they posed a question,

Q: Is there good without God? Can people be good without God? How can people be good, in the moral and ethical sense, without being grounded in some sort of belief in a being which is greater than they are? Where do concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, come from if not from religion? From where do you get your sense of good and evil, right and wrong?

I agree with Paula Kirby, the author of the article, who says "My sense of right and wrong comes from exactly the same source as yours: parental upbringing, society's norms, an evolved empathy with others.", this view concurs with the mainstream evidence on the subject.

Almost all societies, regardless of religious leaning conform to the 20% rule, i.e. one out of every five people will break their societies moral rules somehow, four of them won't (except in extreme circumstances like famine or war etc.) This strongly suggests that morality comes from Humans themselves and hence our evolutionary heritage and not any specific religion or culture. This makes perfect sense if you think about it and is confirmed through studies of other higher mammal species like Chimpanzees and Bonobo's who also live in social groups like us and show similar traits of altruism and an aversion to seeing other members of their species suffer. I suppose once you evolve self awareness and can put yourself into the shoes of another, some of these other moral behaviours follow shortly behind.

Humans (in our current form) have been around for roughly 200,000 years, Judaism emerged roughly 4,000 years ago, and the other main religions even more recently; how is it possible that we managed to survive for 196,000 years without Yahweh to tell us that murder and theft are incompatible with a cohesive society?

The answer of course is that we don't need a Deity to be moral, what we don't learn from our parents and our peers is simply innate.

Nutt's sacked...

Science and Government, are they compatible?

The overwhelming answer from the media last week was no they are not. This story interests me because it so closely mirrors the friction between religion and science in that we have "reality" pitted against vested interest. Alan Johnson is no more willing to look "soft on drugs" than the Pope is willing to look "soft on contraception" it's not reality or evidence that is the issue it's "face".  This dispute goes to the core of the difference between the reality based constituents and the wish thinkers, the scientific method is designed to deliver the truth (or at least the closest we can get), a description of reality that conforms to the data we see, it can help inform our decisions but more often than not shows that our intuition is wrong, however it does not provide a moral framework nor can be relied upon to provide the answers that we wish for, if you want to know which policy  best supports your majority, don't ask a scientist!

We have a slightly flippant but never the less accurate truism in the software business, we say something like "if you don't know how to handle a condition, don't test for it"; Alan Johnson is clearly not a stupid man, he must appreciate the distinction between reality and desire, he has declared himself to be an Atheist so I can't pin the old faith based logic shuffle on him, so I am left wondering, why ask a question when you already know the answer?