Friday, April 29, 2011

Tim Minchin rocks the Albert Hall

I spent a very pleasant evening in the company of Tim Minchin at the Albert hall last night, my wife and I went up to town early, had a meal at the venue and watched TM perform a bunch of new material (and some old stuff) with the 55 piece Heritage orchestra, the effect was wonderful, I'd forgotten how good a real live orchestra sounds. He's on again tonight although I suspect they'll be a lot more tipsy people around than there was last night, should be fun!

He's one of the more serious numbers he performed..

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Oh those atheists...

A classic from DarkMatter2525; funny because I've heard various flavours of Christians and religious apologists make all these claims, confidently and sincerely, whilst completely failing to sense the cognitive dissonance and irony that the rest of us do.

Ultimate faith healer

I was just thinking about the faith healing scam exposed by Derren Brown in my previous post and the question I posed about the lack of criticism of faith healers from mainstream religions because moderate Christians might actually believe it's true (or not?) Well here's a little story that may well answer my question..

Apparently the blood of dead Pope John Paul II will go on display at his beatification in the Vatican on Sunday, just that fact is weird enough, but the reason this only just tepid Pope is being fast-tracked to sainthood is that he has already performed the ultimate faith healing miracle, curing a French nun of Parkinsons disease WHILE DEAD!

So, of course they believe it's true!, wow, maybe the sight of his blood could even cure an amputee..... no?

Faith healing or healing faith?

I got around to watching Sunday's Derren Brown program last night, interesting but not surprising. In it he recruited a guy off the street who learnt how to become a faith healer, he was then whisked off to Texas USA to perform in a real "healing revival" in front of an audience of unsuspecting Christians via a number of dummy runs with friendly audiences and people on the street. Suffice to say the stooge was a complete success, performing a full range of stage scams; convincing the gullible punters that they were cured of some illness or other and that God was communicating to them via the phoney pastor.

What I found interesting about the program was the way in which the final reveal was handled, rather than plainly explaining the deception to the audience (something which was done with the people in the street) the team chose to deliver a speech which went to great lengths to avoid criticising Christianity itself, but rather tamely advised the audience to be cautious when giving money to faith healers and giving up conventional medicine, they also covered some of the techniques used by the scammers, like adrenalin based pain relief. I suppose this approach avoided upsetting the Christians watching but in my mind completely missed the humongous elephant in the room RELIGION and from the look of some of the faces in audience while the speech was being delivered some of those people looked to me like they were actually disappointed, bordering on confused or even mildly hostile.

Brown is an atheist, but the guy he chose to be the fake pastor was supposedly a Christian although he had a pretty fertile potty mouth, anyway, at the end I thought it was a bit of a cop out. In my mind there are two main reasons people were sitting in that room, or any "healing revival", either they are mentally ill or they've been indoctrinated from birth to believe that "faith" is a virtue, indeed the "logic" being pumped out by these snake oil salesmen is that the only reason the healing doesn't actually work is that the recipients don't have enough faith.

Like the self harming junkie kid, who is the immoral party here, the junkie, the supplier or the dealer?

I can't find many (or any?) mainstream Christian commentators that attack this stuff regularly, I guess either they think it's OK or that they'll leave atheists like Brown and Randi to do that job for them. I can't believe that the moderate Christians out there actually think it might be true... can they?

This doesn't mean there's a lack of Christian commentary on this subject however most of it is by puffed up and vacuous apologists who actually attack secularists/atheists for simply pointing this stuff out or what used to be called "calling a spade a spade". Accusing us of being aggressive, strident or theological simpletons, unqualified to comment; I see a lot of that kind of duplicity from Christians. Take this recent commentary from Chris Patten (a Catholic and future head of the BBC) when talking about atheist attacks on the recent Pope's visit within the context of the world-wide Catholic child abuse scandal...

"Some of the arguments put forward by secularists against the Pope's visit were lacking in intellectualism and were extraordinarily mean-spirited," said Lord Patten, who oversaw the Government's preparations for the papal trip. I'm surprised the atheists didn't have better arguments."

So apparently you shouldn't speak out against the rape of children by priests and the subsequent cover up by the hierarchy of the organisation that facilitated it; according to Patten such criticism shows a lack of intellect and mean spiritedness, well, up yours Patten at least we have arguments, there's a good reason why your faith healing overlords call your lot a "flock" you know.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pope almost right about something...

Here's an interesting article, Pope Benedict marks the holiest night in the Christian calendar with some comments about evolution that conclude "Humanity isn't the random product of evolution"

Such a statement is clearly ludicrous in the light of what we know about evolution, but for me makes a lot more sense than the normal Catholic line that evolution is compatible with Christianity. I've never had anyone give a satisfactory account of exactly how evolution is compatible with Christianity, which of course doesn't mean it isn't, just that I haven't heard the logic; maybe there isn't any logic, maybe its one of those "it is, because I say so" kind of things that the theological mind specialises in. For me the inescapable problem with evolution and Christianity is that if evolution is true then Adam, Eve and Eve's original sin is untrue, if those entities didn't exist then there was no fall and no paper trail that leads to vicarious redemption.

Here's what the Pope actually said,

"If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature," he said. "But no, reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine reason."

So close ratty, so close, you almost landed on the most likely truth to this conundrum, but then had to spoil it by inserting your God of the gaps at the end, oh well, back to the chocolate.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Get ouda my face..

I feel it's about time I had a rant about technology and my son's recent "sleep-over" with one of his mates provided a perfect vehicle for it.

Picture the scene, two excited 10 year old boys hyped up on wagon wheels and fresh air and a slightly stressed dad, late home from work, trying to settle them down to watch a James Bond movie on said son's PC, the process flow went something like this:

- Switch on PC, log on as junior.. nope, parental controls kick in you're not allowed to use this PC after 7pm
- Log off, log back on as administrator to fix the parental controls, nope, a new version of parental controls is needed before you can turn it off.
- Downloading new version of parental controls, that progress bar seem awfully slow, the package includes a ton of other crap like Messenger and Video editing software that I just don't want or need, bugger can't stop it now..
- Half way through the download, the Adobe downloader kicks in, apparently I need a new version of Adobe reader, oh no I don't...
- Kill the Adobe downloader and the regular Windows update kicks in and starts downloading a dozen fixes from Microsoft, arghh!
- Threaten to kill son if he doesn't stop using his bed as a trampoline, guest kid is looking decidedly nervous...
- Now it's Apples turn, apparently now is the perfect time for me to get a new version of iTunes and Quicktime, the lights start to dim as the wireless router starts to glow with excess heat..
- 15 minutes on and finally all the downloads finish, the install process starts, 10 minutes later, I can actually reset the parental controls to allow the film to be watched.
- Log off, log on as junior, put film in, sit through the previews (which I'm not allowed to skip... grrr) film starts, hurrah, retire downstairs..

- Two minutes later, son shouts down the stairs, "Dad, it's stopped working", the parental controls have kicked us out... technology, just love it..

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tickling your fancy on Friday..

I couldn't resist some of these unintentionally sexually loaded church signs; why are they're funny? I'm not sure, maybe something to do with schadenfreude who knows, anyway as Ben Elton used to say you can't go wrong with a good knob gag.

Mustn't forget those devilish bodily urges..

And what is it with this him inside me inside you stuff, it all sounds very unhygienic?

Not forgetting something for the laydees....

And something I'm sure we can all get behind, ooer missus..

Thursday, April 14, 2011

More on "blanket" rules..

Following in the vein of the anti-Burqa thread yesterday here is an article which I think gets underneath the skin of this issue, it's not about what people can or cannot wear it's about what's in this Washington Post article. Paula Kirby's criticism is not restricted to Islam, and so it shouldn't be, in Christianity for example there are explicit warrants in the Bible itself for this kind of attitude, for example in Ephesians 5 there is this little edict cosily sandwiched among rules about children obeying their parents and instructions for slave owners,

“Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Of course moderate Christians don't pay much attention to this kind of stuff from a morality point of view in the same way they don't continue to hold slaves, however when you have religious systems that fossilise bronze age social constructs and catapult them into the 21st century without any possibility for adaptation then you are asking for trouble. This kind of misogyny isn't restricted to the wackier fringes of Leviticus either as Paula points out, in the Gospel of John in the New Testament have you ever stopped to wonder what became of the male lover of the woman taken in adultery, why wasn’t he threatened with execution by stoning and hauled before Jesus?

Regardless of the specifics of the control mechanism, burqa or leg irons, regardless of the particular religious tradition it stems from, either you believe in the equality of the sexes or you don't, if the majority of people in France feel that they do believe in this then their law on Burqa's seems reasonable (albeit arbitrary), if a country doesn't have such a law then the politicians need to seriously address the questions in this article and not continue to hide behind the veil of pretending its about freedom of expression.

Finally I reproduce Paula's final paragraph, it's not so much about this particular issue but struck a chord with me because it talks to what I see as the obfuscating "word games" that seem to plague so much of the dialogue between believers and apologists and everyone else.

"Religion is one lie after another: the lie of original sin, the lie of eternal life, the lie of hell, the lie of answered prayer, the lie that life can have no meaning without religion, the lie that religion is the source of morality, the lie of creationism, the lie of a spy-in-the-sky who hears your every word and reads your every thought. And to this list we must add the lie that it views men and women as equal. It has got away for so long with the kind of lunatic word-games that allow death-by-torture to be presented as an act of love, and eternal torment in the flames of hell to be seen as a necessary act of justice, that we should perhaps not be surprised that it has also managed to dupe its followers into seeing the systematic suppression and silencing of women as an act of liberation and equality. Nevertheless, it is a lie, like all the others: a cynical and wicked lie. It is time women everywhere woke up to it."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Who is that masked woman?

Good old Sam Harris popped up unexpectedly on my Newsnight screen the other night being aggressively grilled by Jeremy Paxman, I thought he did well. Certainly a calm considered voice of reason over the other two guests, who were, Mona Eltahawy an Egyptian journalist and Muslim who was pro-banning and Tariq Ramadan a Swiss born Islamic intellectual and philosopher who was anti-ban. Harris was probably over here (UK) pushing his new book "The Moral Landscape", which reminded me that I must read it!

Harris was pro-ban but made the point much clearer than the others that the ban was supportable if put in the context of an objection to particular philosophies like Wahhabi Islam that treats Woman unequally in many walks of life compared to men, rather than anything particular to do with the clothes themselves or Islam generally. It's a shame the French government (and our own for that matter) has less compunction about supporting the Saudi regime and flogging them weapons. Ramadan was doing the typical apologist thing of trying to play down the blatant discrimination much like a Catholic Bishop attempting to play down child abuse or a Baptist minister playing down his detestation of homosexuality, it was equally unconvincing. The interview ended with Ramadan ranting at Eltahawy to shut-up somewhat ironic I thought; a Muslim male telling a Muslim female to be silent.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Self replicating chemistry

Here's a story that interested me, Biologists at Cambridge University have created a (substantially) self replicating molecule of RNA. The molecule was derived from a process not unlike natural selection whereby the team doing the work made a vast library of thousands of different versions of the molecule until they happened upon one that worked better than any other; it replicated itself without the need for any other molecules helping. RNA is like DNA and can store genetic information like DNA. Some viruses contain RNA instead of DNA and it performs a similar job, however until now a simple molecule which behaves like this has proved elusive.

One possible starting point for all life on our planet is a simple self-replicating molecule like this. We already know that our universe is crammed full of the building blocks of such molecules and so a good understanding of the chemistry involved in instantiating such a molecule and then how that might become more complex over time (with the help of some form of selection pressure) eventually lead to something sufficiently complex that we would deem it "alive", is a tantalising possibility.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Tim Minchin rocks

Tim Minchin's wonderful poem "storm", now animated, well worth a look if you want to understand why rationalists get a bit tetchy when wishy washy apologists for woo woo bang on about crystal healing and spirituality and berate science and critical thinking from a position of ignorance, all the while personally benefiting hugely from the hard won results of it's efforts.

Can't wait to seem him again at the Albert Hall in a month or two..

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Well done Peter Robinson!

I read a little story on the BBC web site today that made me feel more hopeful that the troubles in Northern Ireland might actually be over. Peter Robinson who is the first minister has said that he will attend the funeral of recently murdered (Catholic) policeman Ronan Kerr. This is significant because since the 1560s (approx) the Catholic mass has been verboten for Protestants and even modern day political figures of that persuasion have not attended Catholic funerals, no matter how much they felt sympathy for the bereaved.

For a Atheist like me the fact that a medieval spat regarding which magic spells are mumbled at a church service can override human solidarity in the face of violent intolerance is simply baffling, I'm so glad I have no such constraints.