Thursday, December 30, 2010

If it quacks like a celebrity...

Here's a funny-sad-sad-funny kind of thing; celebrity quackery was as bouyant as ever in 2010 the WEB site "Sense about science" or SAS has a round up of some of the more quacktastic claims and assertions made by various major and (very) minor celebrities this year, take a read, it's toe curling.

Here's a quick sample:

- Cage fighter Alex Reid's top tip before fighting is to "reabsorb" his own sperm (because it's as good for you as a plate of steak and eggs apparently)

- David Beckham and Kate Middleton wear little plastic wrist bands with holograms in them which are claimed to enhance energy and fitness... (no good for brain power then?)

- Naomi Campbell's maple syrup, lemon and pepper diet (tasty!...)

- Sarah Harding eats charcoal (smelly farts?)

The list goes on, and on, and on, thanks goodness for our celebrities, making us all feel super intelligent 24/7..

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Man the barricades

Before you religious types out there fuelled on mulled wine and evensong, get all warm and fuzzy over Christmas, here's an interesting survey, (page 70) for the first time (at least that I can recall) England is a majority "non-religious" country, 50.7% having "no religion" and 20% Church of England. Of course this is just one survey and is probably exceptional, but hey, no raping and pillaging so far... although there was that thing on radio 4 by the Pope that was pretty offensive.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The wind down

Last day at work before the Christmas break, I've told everyone that I'm kicking them out of the office at midday, so far no one has complained... This afternoon I expect I'll be running around getting those last minute bits and bobs and looking forward to the time I can shut the doors, kick off my shoes in front of the fire and start relaxing officially!

Have a great holiday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Distant relatives

I see in the news today that yet another sub-species of humans has been discovered. Not a living one of course but an ancient one; 50,000 year old bones found in caves in Siberia have had their DNA tested and it turns out to be a completely separate (and now extinct) line of human beings, labelled "Denisovans" after the region they were found in; this makes four known species that existed at the same time as modern homo-sapiens emerged from Africa.

From the sequences in the DNA its is likely that this species interbred with ours so at least a part of their legacy remains in peoples of that region but their main line petered out long, long ago. Just think, their entire species evolved, lived, feared the unknown, loved their children, laughed, cried and probably invented purpose and supernatural forces where there were none for thousands of generations, and then one day they went extinct, without ever hearing the words "Allah", "Yahweh", "Jesus" or even "iPad". Maybe going extinct and allowing another species to take your place is the only way to shed the clutches of ones memes?

Monday, December 20, 2010

King of woo woo

It's not often I agree with something in the Daily Fail; but I find this article about Prince Charles quite agreeable.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not in favour of any monarchy, anywhere, and if our particular line ended with Elizabeth and the whole medieval gravy train was consigned to museums, books and weekend battle re-enactments that would be just fine with me. Even thinking about paying for this science hating, mumbo-jumbo spouting dullard to gain the throne of England is upsetting, it's like rubbing metaphorical salt into an open intellectual wound.

On the other hand, a few years of Charles at the helm "pushing" his coffee bean enemas to combat cancer might be what is needed to tip the whole thing over the edge, the people of this country might finally come to their senses and relegate this institution to a more fitting 21st century role, i.e. as permanent exhibits in Madame Tussauds!

Company do's

We had our company Christmas do last Friday; being small we usually tag along to one of those corporate event type things in a big tent at Ascot racecourse or Legoland or similar with lots of other small companies (who we don't know), reasonable fun but fairly sterile, lots of chubby accountants doing dances they really shouldn't and inebriated secretaries doing things with their saliva with that they'll probably regret on Monday morning. So, this year we decided to try something different, we all trooped off to an afternoon/evening of cookery school! (cue lots of moaning from the younger male members of staff)

The deal was basically to split into two groups, one cooked (under instruction) while the other did a wine tasting, then we swapped. At the end we all ate what we made and were judged by our helpers, our menu was Thai fish cakes, pork Wellington and crème brulee, not trivial! and the whole thing was against the clock. I'm not sure which was the best group to be in, i.e. the ones cooking before the wine tasting or after, all I can say is there wasn't much spitting going on so everyone was quite merry, quite quickly.

I ended up in the "after-wine" group and I must admit we had the higher instance of food fights, smoky pans and general larking around, but aside from all the Christmas spirit, it was fascinating to see how some people coped with cooking a full meal. Getting the quantities, timings and temperatures right proved tricky for many, particularly the younger (male) ones who had the double distractions of free flowing wine and attractive female helpers. Surprisingly though, in the final analysis the food that emerged was really good, no one had any great disasters and we all ate pretty much everything we made.

All in all a thoroughly successful event, I recommend it!

This is where we went

Friday, December 17, 2010

To timid to say what you really think?

Gasp... Pat Condell certainly isn't...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The oldest game in town

It's been a quiet 7 days on this blog, I've not read or seen much as we've been away for a little break and I wasn't allowed to pack my laptop (orders from on high!) I'm not sure about this kind of blatant censorship, it doesn't feel right to me, anyway, luckily I was able to get a couple of "read-only" fixes via my phone and I see that a little blasphemy story has bubbled up in the last couple of days.

Apparently a Pakistani doctor is being held under Blasphemy law because he threw away the business card of a salesman who had the name "Mohammed". Now we're all well used to this kind of irrational nonsense from theocratic states, there are a plethora of examples to choose from, however what amused me more was the analysis from the Pakistani press. Critics say the laws should be removed because they are increasingly "used to settle grudges, persecute minorities and promote extremism" - and there we have it ladies and gentlemen, a nice summary of one of the strategic pillars of all mono-theistic religions spanning the last 4000 years. Come on people, blasphemy has ALWAYS been used for this purpose.

So, please, all moderate and civilised Muslims in Pakistan, wake up and smell the pakola, ditch these superstitious medieval throw-backs as soon as you can!!!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Elf abuse

If you're looking for evidence that religion detrimentally affects some people's mental health then look no further than the Danish pastor in this article, Jon Knudsen, the pastor of the Løkken Free Church in Jutland loves Christmas but hates Elves, so much so that he's strung one up outside his church, having first constructed a gallows specifically for this purpose.

At this point you may be wondering what the good Pastor has against innocent children's fantasy figures but apparently he claims that Elves come from the Devil and his (warped) logic dictates that anything of the Devil must be rejected as signified by a mock execution. Knudsen goes further describing elves of all sorts as “poltergeists that come from the devil and make children sick”.

I guess when you spend your whole life making stuff up then wacky nonsense like this spills out of your brain with relative ease; let's hope he doesn't incur the wrath of the (real) king of Christmas, our cosmic overseer and spiritual inspiration for millions, you  know, Santa Claus! 

No presents for Paster Knudsen then, naughty boy!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Fridge Phelps

This one tickled my funny bone today...

On a more serious note I'm encouraged to see sites like b3ta (where this was copied from) featuring more humorous ridiculing of certain religious facets and behaviours, there is nothing more demystifying than taking the p*ss out of something that has aspirations beyond it's content (as long as its actually funny of course!)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Interesting week

So, this week we've seen a blow struck against openness in society, the founder of Wikileaks (Julian Assange) has been in trouble. Having published thousands of US diplomatic cables on his whistle-blowing site he now seems to be wrapped up in a bunch of legal wrangles involving an alleged sex crime in Sweden.

I must say it seems hard not to believe that Mr Assange is being "taken down" by a US administration hell bent on seeking revenge for embarrassing them. It will be interesting how this pans out under the spotlight of the media frenzy around the contents of the leak; the web-site itself has been attacked using a DoS (denial of service) tactic (suspicious) and the Swedish government has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Assange who is believed to be residing in the UK at the moment. Personally I don't see why Mr Assange should be prosecuted for what he's done, he's no different from the various newspapers and television channels that have re-cycled these articles, and I have to assume the editors of those papers are sleeping easy at nights and not expecting black clad ninjas attached to black-hawk helicopters to burst through their bedroom windows at any moment?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Irony overload

Lord Carey, former Arch Bishop of Canterbury has launched a campaign essentially encouraging Christians to show that they aren't ashamed of being Christians. Personally, most Christians I encounter don't have this problem (often the opposite) so I am left thinking that the sub-text of this campaign is really a protest against perceived secular encroachment on Christian privilege, an entirely different kettle of fish. Some age old canards are being wheeled that support this idea, according to Carey our society is "ashamed of Christmas". I can only conclude that I must be blind, apparently there is a "war on Christmas" and our shared Christian heritage, really, where?

I've never met anyone, ever, who wanted to do anything to Christmas, atheist, secularist, Muslim, Jew or otherwise. I actually quite like Christmas, not because of the Christian significance of it or the consumer frenzy it has turned into, but simply because it's a holiday and I get chance to spend quality time with my children. I honestly couldn't care less what Christians feel about Christmas, so long as they don't teach my children that it's true or claim privilege under our law by blindly asserting that what they believe is somehow special, in that context any religious festivals are just fine with me.

I also enjoy Star Wars films, but I don't have to believe "the force" really exists..

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In the thick of it

For fans of "in the thick of it" and people not easily offended by a bit of graphic cussing, here is Crispin Jago's take on a topical problem for the Pope and the Catholic Church generally, excellent work brother..

Monday, November 29, 2010

Paxman - Hitchens

Great interview very moving, I really hope CH lives longer than statistics suggest he will, the world will be dumber without him in it.

Are you blind ref?

Admittedly the title of this post isn't the most cutting of referee chants I've ever heard but how about the Scottish FA firing a referee because he sent an email they didn't think was funny. Yes, you've guessed it, the joke was on the Catholic Church and we all know how that crowd is so well grounded and confident in their convictions that they simply shrug their broad shoulders and laugh off any humour directed at them, or.... not.

Referee Hugh Dallas was fired by the SFA for sending a "tasteless message" relating to the Pope's visit to Scotland, you can see the joke image he sent above, personally I thought it wasn't that funny, more like a public information sign, but it has cost him his job. So, who are the bastards in the black? In this case, Catholic clergy apparently...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Whatever next..

This might be the most realistic CGI i've ever seen, imagine what a movie would look like with this much work in it, amazing.

Silestone -- 'Above Everything Else' from Alex Roman on Vimeo.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thursday smirk

What those nasty, mean Atheists really think about prayer...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

One acknowledges those godless johnnies...

I read with some delight today that the Queen of England actually took the opportunity of the commencement of the 5 year term of the general synod of the Church of England (who she is the head of) to point out that religious people have no monopoly on morality, she said the following:

"It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the well-being and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and none,"

Ouch, that had to sting for some! I hear this argument all the time (ad nausea) i.e. "we need religion otherwise how would we know how to be good" what a bunch of poppycock, the evidence of our (real) lives is more like we need religion to learn how to avoid being moral and then come up with excuses for it (like my invisible sky daddy told me to do it).

Good for the Queen, perhaps she's been tracking the growing Atheist/Rationalist vibe on the internet in recent years, now that she has her own Facebook page and all, oh and I can't help feeling that Philip needs a holiday, just look at the expression on his face!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Rationalists among us would be forgiven for thinking that at the start of this week that they'd be on a pretty sure footing asserting that, "a leading 1st world economy like Ireland can't go bankrupt" and the "Pope is Catholic", now it's Sunday and I'm feeling a little unsettled. Firstly it looks like the Irish economy is a lot worse off than any one thought, they have conceded defeat and called in the IMF, it also looks like we'll be bailing them out with a few billions too, because let's be honest, that's what we do these days, i.e. knock our pans out to earn a living and then give the money away to incompetent hucksters because they lost all theirs. I bet our friends over the sea curse the day the nickname "Celtic Tiger" was coined. Secondly we have an alarming comment from the Pope that supposedly condones the use of condoms in certain circumstances in order to prevent the spread of HIV. What horror is this? The bottom has fallen from the world of us secular rationalists; a Pope saying something almost sensible and not spouting ignorant, dogmatic and self-serving drivel, I must admit the example of male prostitutes wouldn't seem to me to be the main-stay of the HIV challenge but hey, I guess you have to start somewhere.

Lets face reality though, tomorrow we'll be waking to hear that the bill to bail out the Irish will be much bigger than expected and we'll all have to give up the use of a limb for a few years and the Pope will "clarify" his message pointing out that the ghost of Mother Theresa told him that it's only valid to use johnnies in months containing the letter "Z", such is the way of the world.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tyresome fanatics

Here is an uplifting story for a change, members of the Westborough Baptist Church (infamous for being complete dick-heads) came unstuck the other day when after having protested the funeral of a soldier they returned to their mini-van to discover its tyres slashed, when they sought assistance from local garages they couldn't find anyone who would help them eventually they had to be towed away on a flat-bed truck..

Whilst no one should condone damaging property I can't help feeling a twinge of schadenfreude about this, no doubt they will claim Christian victimisation, smirk...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Occupational hazards

Anyone in the computer software business will recognise this phenomenon, it feels like it takes just as much time to write software now as it did 20 years ago, maybe its just me or maybe people expect it to do more these days, although customer expectations tend to be universally unrealistic throughout history from what I can tell.

Its really difficult to explain to someone who doesn't understand what software is why it takes so much time and such deep concentration to create it; a good analogy might be writing books however I think even writing books might be easier, there's more leeway with a book at least i.e. books don't crash when you spell a word wrong.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is it a bird?

Being partial to some activities others may call extreme this video caught my eye today, it's of a kite surfer (Lewis Crathern) using a 60mph breeze on the South coast to jump over Brighton pier, yes, jump over!


Primitive thinking

An article came up yesterday which tells a thoroughly modern story about an internet sting using that most socially cutting-edge of human inventions, Facebook, to catch someone red-handed in the West Bank town of Qalqilya. The only problem with the story however is that the crime this person has committed is one of the oldest and yet most bogus of all crimes ever invented by man in order to control other men, blasphemy.

The 26 year old man accused is supposed to have been making secret rants against Islam and God on his blog. Two things struck me firstly that he is the son of an Islamic scholar (so much for supposedly irrefutable and perfect nature of the message of Islam!) and secondly at its peak there were over 70,000 visitors to his blog (mostly from Arabic countries), clearly someone found what he was saying interesting! As an example of some of the things he's been saying here is a quote from the blog "Islam is a "blind faith that grows and takes over people's minds where there is irrationality and ignorance." In a response which is seeped in irony, local practitioners of the "religion of peace" are calling for his death by public burning, if he's lucky he may escape with life in prison.

The Palestinian Authority demands support from the "secular West", I think they are right to do so as many injustices have been dealt their constituents over recent years many of which go unchallenged. However, if that same authority feels it's OK to subject their own people to it's very own flavour of medieval injustice then that support needs to be reconsidered, the well-being of this particular individual would seem to be better served under the authority of a secular (and free) Israel?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Them's balls!

Clearly this isn't a question of national importance but never the less is one that's handy for those of us bloggers with a puerile sense of humour and always on the look-out for a cheap pun. The question is, who has the biggest testicles in the animal kingdom?

According to a recent scientific reckoning that dubious honour goes to the Bush Cricket who's cajones weigh in at around 14% of body mass, to put this in perspective if these high density danglers belonged to a human male they would weigh around 5KG each!

The current theory about why the Bush Cricket's equipment is so impressive is that it's more beneficial for the species if males mate with as many different females as possible rather than having higher quality individual pairings. But  thinking about it we probably already knew that, i.e. the more females you court simultaneously the bigger balls you need...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Water-boarding on the NHS

According to former president GW Bush the torture act of water-boarding saves lives so don't be surprised if it doesn't show up on the NHS soon, no seriously all those obese people clogging up the system could be forced to confess how many chocolate hob-nob's they've really had and save everyone a lot of time. For those who aren't au fait with modern torture techniques take a look at this video of journalist Christopher Hitches being water-boarded for his art.

Compared with pulling out finger nails this looks fairly tame, although I'm not volunteering for anything I hasten to add, I can imagine its catastrophically unpleasant to feel as though you are drowning for hours on end.

Fans of this kind of thing (and there are many) seldom seem to take into account the overwhelmingly negative evidence that torture is a pretty poor way of gathering intelligence, highly unreliable seems to be the conclusion of most studies done, however if you are trying to prevent the slaughter of innocent people against the clock then anyone can see the attraction. In the end we should probably have a cold hard (scientific) look at whether this kind of thing creates more terrorists than it catches, I suspect the answer is not as simple as we would like.

Swinging the lead

The scientists at the LHC experiment in Switzerland have successfully created the hottest, densest matter collisions so far achieved by us puny humans, by smashing lead Ions together at phenomenal energies and speeds they managed to create a plasma made of quarks and gluons at temperatures of ten trillion degrees.

These are the conditions thought to be present at the big bang, or at least just after it, and understanding how matter behaves at these extremes will help us understand more about how we got here and the fundamental natural laws that govern matter and energy in the universe.

Some people argue that the huge sums of money spent doing things like this are wasted, they ask who cares about quarks and gluons? They'd presumably rather spend the money on more immediate human needs, or perhaps things that they can personally understand more easily. I can sympathise, superficially it does seem like we should spend all our spare money on vaccinations and food for African children, but reality is much more complex than that. My own view is that science and the desire to "understand" is actually a basic human need, less pressing perhaps than acquiring a square meal every day, but certainly easily up there with things like art, music and literature, without the desire to discover new things I think we become entrenched, stale, self obsessed. It seems like the need to "understand" is an innate property of conciousness, certainly whenever it has been suppressed in the past by religions, governments or dictators, human suffering seems to increase; and just like in the game of whac-a-mole, it always emerges again somewhere, somehow.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Transfer window opens

5 Anglican Bishops who don't like the idea that morality is a plastic concept and shaped by reason, society and human solidarity are leaving to join the Catholics. Apparently a transfer deal was done a while ago with the Pope who (of course) loves the idea that morality is something that is determined by his organisation and none other. I can't believe that the Anglican leadership can be happy about this although since the child abuse scandals there seem to be a lot of disaffected Catholics around at the moment so perhaps a more general Christian re-shuffle is on the cards?

What apparently passes both organisations by is the fact that they expect the rest of us to hold their ideas in high regard and with unconditional respect, even to the point of attempting to enshrine this concept in our Laws. Yet they feel happy to change their own beliefs so easily, for the sake of politics you could say, swapping and changing like "cafeteria believers". From the atheist perspective this is simply more evidence that truth and people are not as important to the faithful as tradition and authority (despite what they claim), in other words, the garments of the emperors becoming more and more transparent with each passing year.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

US Elections

Well, all the pundits are saying that the US elections will provide a landslide for the Republican party, from some of the candidates like Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell it would appear that rank ignorance and bat-shit crazy religious beliefs are absolutely no barrier to popularity.

I seriously hope we don't slip back into the dark days of the world being run by a few greedy, delusionally nostalgic tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, come on Democrats what are you doing over there... we find out if this is the start of the end or the end of the start tomorrow!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Push back

This phone video was shot by a guy outside an abortion clinic, the poor man had to take his wife to have an abortion, because the child inside her had a rare condition called Sirenomelia. If that experience wasn't bad enough for the couple, he had to cope with some Christian wankers standing across the street holding up pictures of aborted foetuses and shouting biblical bollocks at them.

Unlike most (emotionally shattered) people in this situation he cracked and went over and told them what he thought of them, actually I think he was pretty polite, I would have used many more expletives. The response of the two cretins standing there was telling, first they tried to weasel their way out of it saying "sorry" and ended up threatening to fetch the police, at no point did they attempt to understand, what ignorant and evil hypocrites they truly are.

And they say Atheists are supposed to be the mean-spirited ones.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

One of our robots is missing

Wow, I'm not quite sure what the point of this robot is but its just spooky, I wonder if the geeks fight over who's going to be "working from home" with it, oh come on, you were thinking that too..

Monday, October 25, 2010

Act of God?

Trouble over at the Richard Dawkins site, apparently a lot of money has gone AWOL and the finger of suspicion is pointing at the ex-Web Master Josh Timonen. Dawkins and Timonen have been friends for several years, in fact he dedicated his last book to him and although quite young and inexperienced RD had contracted him to build his Web site and film several bits and pieces for various science oriented projects. It looks like things went wrong when RD allowed Timonen to run the on-line store associated with the site, unbelievably not insisting on proper accounts or audits the result being that around £300,000 has gone missing, RD is now bringing legal proceedings against him and its all getting predictably nasty. Accusations are flying around like there's no tomorrow, Timonen's girlfriend who is much older than him is cited as a beneficiary of the stolen money as are several members of her family, hopefully they can settle the case between themselves without unnecessary public vitriol.

What makes me despair more than fraudulent use of money belonging to a charity is the response from the religious chatteratti, bile, hate and spite would be a fair summary. I suppose it's to be expected but the classic playground retort of nah, nah, na na nah, told you atheists have no morals isn't what you'd call a thoughtful analysis. Take a look at some of the exhibits over at the comments in this newspaper for example. Most of these dimwits seem to forget that there is a religious scandal in pretty much every newspaper on every day of the week in most countries of the world, and most of them a lot nastier than just a case of embezzling. What is it about these people are they so thickly befuddled by their fantasies that they are totally unable to look at themselves and realise that human beings are all the same, regardless of their beliefs and delusions, some bad, some good and some totally f**ked up, get over your sanctimonious selves for heavens sake!

Friday, October 22, 2010

1st century philosophy meets 21st century media

It's not a great time to be gay in Uganda at the moment, not only are you likely to be harassed, threatened and possibly even physically harmed because of an attribute of your biology, you may also find your picture plastered all over the media encouraging people to "hang them"!

Thanks to externally supplied bronze age (Christian) literature and religious literalism that society seems hell bent on convincing the rest of us that they are a bunch of ignorant, frothing and superstitious vigilantes. All I can say is that I'm sincerely glad I have no reason to visit such a fear based and discriminatory culture, or have anything to do with them at all, save pointing out how retarded their ideas about human morality are of course.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Stuff that works

Another superb bit of diagramming from my favourite comic strip xkcd. This time we look at things that actually work and what our capitalist world tends to do with such things, i.e. for the most part companies are good barometers for things that work even though it sometimes takes time for them to find them.

This raises a question in my mind, why isn't religion on this list?

On reflection, perhaps it's got something to do with the fact that organised religion devours people's resources (time and money) independently of efficacy because you only find out if it's really true or not when you're dead! In this important respect for a surprising proportion of our population therefore, religion works.


No underlying reason to post this picture today other than this beautiful creature being true to her spots caught my eye.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Electrons cost more than paper?

I was looking at a book for my new Kindle today and noticed that the electronic version is MORE expensive than the paper back, huh? Why would someone pay more for electrons than a hard copy? If Amazon really want this format to take off and possibly even save a few trees into the bargain then they seriously need to sort their download pricing out.

The book in question is the new Booker prize winner "The Finkler Question", which is £5.99 in paperback but £6.64 for the Kindle edition! Are Amazon really suggesting that it costs them 10% more for me to download a little text file than pulp, manufacture, print, distribute, warehouse, pick and then ship a physical book?

Is this a case of the electronic revolution stifled by greedy retailers or greedy publishers I wonder which? In any case I probably won't buy either now.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Excellent use of flow charting here from Crispian Jago quickly and efficiently deals with the most common "alternative" medical treatments. I particularly like the way he deals with prayer, "can you be arsed to actually do anything?", no, then prayer is definitely for you!

Click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bigger than you think

I hadn't appreciated how big Africa actually was, but look at it with all these other countries crammed into it for comparison, topography envy?

Atheist theology

A common criticism levelled at Atheists is that they aren't qualified theologians therefore cannot competently comment on theological questions, like the existence of God for example. It's a complaint that has cropped up on this blog several times, arguments fall off the empirical path into a fog of semantic pedantry about definitions and meaning. Most Atheists I know dismiss theology, sometimes kindly by saying something like "theology is study of the unknowable" or perhaps in the forthright language of Thomas Paine (who thought this about it 200 years ago)

"The study of theology as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principals; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and admits no conclusions."

Personally I think theology is an interesting thing to study if viewed through an historical or anthropological lens, all the major civilizations we know have had religions or supernatural belief systems, it is undoubtedly a part of our evolutionary heritage albeit perhaps more cultural evolution than evolution by natural selection and so worthy of investigation and deeper understanding even if not of obvious utility in itself.

I wonder though if the non-theologian argument is a valid one? Most Atheists I know think more about theological questions than most Christians I know, by a big margin, and so if it's valid to hold a belief without consideration for theology why is it not equally valid to not believe it without consideration for theology?

There is an interesting debate going on currently around the question "could evidence exist that would convince an atheist of the existence of God?" - superficially it seems that the answer to this should be yes, of course, but using  the power of "theology" (albeit Atheist theology) it is surprisingly easy to hide the question behind a shield of semantics and meaning all of which are logically sound and perhaps illustrate the true purpose of theology. The argument goes something like this (T=Theologian, A=Atheist),

T) Could there be evidence for God?
A) The question is undefined because "God" is a plastic concept that is twisted to evade evaluation.

T) What if a 900m Jesus appeared in Time Square
A) No religion even proposes such a thing, so such a being would not prove the existence of any prior concept of God.

T) What about the forces of nature we don't understand, like Higgs Bosons?
A) There are many things we don't understand, none are evidence for a God and anyway, once we do understand them they become natural and hence disqualified from Godhood.

T) What if something happened that was so intricately improbable that you'd have to agree it could only be the work of God
A) Human individuals are ridiculously improbable, the events that had to happen and the random recombinations of complex strands of DNA make us all utterly improbable, but we are not Gods. Also, no such impossible event has ever happened, even after millenia of observation, if such an event (like a healed amputee or flocks of angels) were the criteria for proof then all existing religions are therefore disproven.

T) What about Bible miracles, visions, revelations and unexplained phenomena?
A) There are always better explanations than God, our brains are clumsy, sputtering and inefficient, they are also easily fooled. Failures of our sensory perception are not evidence for an alternate reality.

Of course if you disagree with any of this then clearly the arguments are too subtle and sophisticated for someone with no Atheist theology training like you! ;)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Small but not simple

Check out the top 20 pictures from the 2010 Nikon "small world" photographic competition, amazing, the picture below was the winner..

If you're wondering what the heck this is then your mind will be suitably boggled to know it's the heart of an "Anopheles gambiae", or blood sucking mosquito to you and I, yes even those pesky little critters have one!

New York angers Thor

It's official, New York has done something really bad and upset that most theatrical of Gods Thor; Christian religious authorities are speculating on why this is the case, some say its because of gays or perhaps abortion, others blame aggressive secularism, some even say it's the lack of fresh herring available but in any case New Yorkers should be more respectful towards Thor or they can expect a lot more electricity oriented punishment to come their way!

Breaking News: Apparently senior religious officials from the Asian subcontinent are claiming that it isn't Thor after all who's angry, a delegation from India are attempting to clarify the position pointing out that the only true God of lightening is "Indra", during a news conference a small group of Greeks heckled the Indians chanting "Zeus", "Zeus" and outside the building several Italians waved banners proclaiming the wrath of Jupiter. In the New York times this morning a Cherokee Indian chief has written an article stating that the whole thing is nonsense since everyone knows that God "Ani Hyuntikwalaski" causes lightening, whilst a team of Mexican specialists have dismissed this theory warning that unless everyone starts paying proper respect to "Huracan" then for every bolt that the upstart Thor sends he will send three!

If you're interested in what this is really about then here's the real caption associated with this photograph:

"This is the moment a lightning bolt struck the Statue of Liberty in New York. New York photographer Jay Fine had spent the night braving the storm in Battery Park City, Manhattan, in a bid to get the perfect picture. Jay spent nearly two hours poised with his camera and took more than 80 shots before striking lucky with this particular bolt of lightning at 8.45pm on 22 September. He said he had been waiting 40 years to get the picture."

40 Years! wow, reality is so much more interesting (and much harder work!) than all the other stuff!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It's a miracle!

I've been following the plight of the Chilean miners stuck 700m underground with great interest, it's an utterly perfect "media event", you have disaster, technology, human interest, jeopardy and a compelling event. Of course it's not only the media that feeds on events like this, let's not forget our religious brothers and sisters who aren't backwards in coming forwards when it comes to feel-good feeding frenzies. The three Christian denominations have each claimed credit for what they say is divine intervention in the survival - and expected imminent rescue - of the 33 men who have spent 67 days beneath the earth. Local Christian flavoured representatives are keen to get in on the act.

Carlos Parra Diaz, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor at the San Jose mine said,

"God has spoken to me clearly and guided my hand each step of the rescue, he wanted the miners to be rescued and I am His instrument."

Yards from where he spoke Caspar Quintana, the Catholic bishop of Copiapo, prepared an altar to celebrate an outdoor mass for a small congregation of miners' relatives and phalanx of TV cameras, he offered his verdict...

"God has heard our prayers, I have received comments of encouragement from all over the world. Let us give thanks."

A litte bit further up the hill of Camp Hope, the improvised settlement of miners' families, rescuers, government officials and media, an evangelical preacher, Javier Soto , wandered from family to family with a guitar and songs of praise. "He listens to the music," said the pastor, gesturing to the azure sky.

Of course rational people know that the success of this rescue will depend on geology and mining engineering, executed by people grounded in technology and science, however the devil in me (because clearly there is one) would just love to remove all the equipment and (real) expertise and let these three jokers finish the mission using only their "spirituality", it would be amusing at least; although on second thoughts I wouldn't want to burden those miners any more, they've probably had enough groping around in the dark for anyone's lifetime.

I can't help wondering, if the Christian God is happy to take credit for the rescue of these miners, can we assume that he takes full credit for all the miners that have ever died too?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Let there be light

It was my birthday recently, it's not important how old I was but let's say I'm almost certainly more than half way through the game! But to compensate for feelings of being past it, I got a couple of really nice presents. My long suffering Wife got me one of those new Amazon Kindle e-book readers which I love, her hidden agenda of course was to remove the unruly pile of books by my side of our bed, this can now be reduced to something the size of half an A4 sheet of paper and about the thickness of a pencil. I also got a leather cover for it that has a sneaky pull-out light in one corner; this means that if I want to read after lights-out then I can without disturbing her, although I must admit that I feel a little like a naughty schoolboy with a torch under the covers!

For those struggling to visualise this, above is a picture of one fully extended, Oo-er missus!

Talking of light, I also got the latest Linkin Park album, "A Thousand Suns". I like it, gone (mostly) are the screaming teenage angst ridden tracks of "nobody's listening" to much more important subjects like nuclear war, I guess we all have to grow up some time. One small point of scientific interest was that one track features the voice of Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds", very poignant.

Dawkins must be stopped..

This made me chuckle..

"Dawkins must be stopped from calling us 'primitive', get me a wax doll and some pins..."


I read today that Sir Philip Green has concluded that the Government is failing to make full use of its buying power when dealing with suppliers. Resisting the urge simply to say duh! and close the file, I did read on a bit, he says that centralisation is the key so that departments avoid buying the same things for different amounts of money, I can almost hear the groans pulsating up and down Victoria street as I write this.

This all sounds reasonable but if you've ever had to sell things to Governments you will know that its normally a horrific process with many layers of redundant and repeated "hoop-jumping", authorisation and approval; selling things to Governments is typically much more expensive than to anyone else. The only buying entities that come close to this are large faceless corporations like Mr Green's, then you usually face another equally expensive problem, delusional over-simplification.

I wonder how many billions have been wasted over the years flip-flopping between centralised and de-centralised models and I wonder how many more control-freak business moguls will conclude that if only the Government were run like *their* company was then everything would be fine. Mind you I bet the myriad terrorist organisations around the world will love rummaging through our armed forces "bargain basement bins" at the end of the season, buy one stinger missile, get one free anyone?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

If it ain't broke...

I watched a medal ceremony at the Commonwealth games yesterday, it was a nice moment, England had won gold beating Australia by a whisker (always extra nice moments!) but as the flag rose up the pole the hymn "Jerusalem" belted out across the stadium, nice tune, but what an anticlimax, it felt entirely wrong.

A bit of quick research threw up the fact that for this games apparently there was a vote to see which tune should be played at medal giving ceremonies involving the English team and the winner was the aforementioned Blake inspired ditty. Not wanting to be labelled a traditionalist I have a dilemma here, it sounded wrong to use this hymn because its the stirring words that make it, and clearly there are no words at a medal ceremony, however both this and our national anthem are full of delusional deity inspired nonsense that any self respecting Atheist would avoid given a choice. My conclusion was that we need a new anthem, something that actually reflects our country as it is now rather than as it was in 1890, but what modern work could hope to stand shoulder to shoulder with a classic like Jerusalem, perhaps we should get Simon Cowell on the case, on second thoughts..

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Standing up for superstition

I see today that the Catholic church continues its crusade in favour of dogmatic, pre-scientific superstition over human well-being. In a statement released yesterday a spokesman criticised the recent Nobel prize for medicine awarded to Robert Edwards (who pioneered work into in vitro fertilisation) In it a top Vatican "bio-ethics" official Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula said that "his (Edwards) research didn't treat the underlying problem of infertility but rather skirted it", an interesting perspective, the rest of us would look at the situation and see parents without children having treatment and afterwards, er, actually having children, seemingly hitting the problem of infertility squarely on the head?

Perhaps all those years of theological training have imparted some deeper knowledge of reality (unavailable to the rest of us) to Mr de Paula, a reality in which embryos conceived in vitro are somehow inferior to those conceived through sexual intercourse between two (married) people? As is typical for "experts" of Mr de Paula's ilk he does not explain how he knows this, conveniently (and unlike the scientists) avoiding any proper scrutiny of his position. The Vatican spokesman goes on to point out the fate of unwanted or excess embryos, i.e. they are destroyed or used in stem cell research, he objects to this, using the age-old playground bully's defence of "because I say so". Every other rational person realises that although any kind of waste is regrettable, this is exactly what happens in nature where un-fertilised embryos are traditionally flushed down the toilet rather than being used to further our attempts to reduce the suffering of millions.

In case you are wondering, the picture shows professor Edwards with the first ever test-tube baby, Louise Brown who is a Mother herself now. I wonder if she's Catholic?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Scientology, officially stupid?

Councillor John Dixon of Cardiff is a keen twitter user, unfortunately for him he made a tweet about the "Church" of Scientology in which he said,

"I didn't know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off."

Now to the rest of the world this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to say, in fact when you think about it, this should probably be compulsory advice freely available on the NHS! But those ever litigious Scientologists were keen to prove that this comment represented some kind of criminal act, according to a spokesman for the organisation one of their brethren decided to sue Mr Dixon claiming he was "personally insulted". Clearly the impulse to silence critics using the legal system runs deep through their membership and their intolerance to free speech is as legendary as ever.

Fortunately though, common sense has prevailed and a standards and ethics committee has dropped the charges, I'm not sure where this leaves the people that bought this case, officially stupid I guess?

Commonwealth games 2010

We watched the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth games last night, it looked wonderful, the colours and the costumes were amazing and after all the controversy about the Indian authorities not being ready it was good to see them pulling it off without any apparent hitch (although I did spot one unfortunate dancer falling over in the middle of her set)

The strangest thing I found about the whole thing was trying to explain to my 9 year old son what the "point" of these games were and why this eclectic collection of nations gets together at all. A relic of our imperial past certainly but then it's hard to be precise about the rules of this club, firstly not all ex-colonies joined; notable exceptions include USA, Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, secondly, there are even countries that weren't colonies at all but who would like to join, for example Algeria and apparently even France considered it back in the 50s. In the end we concluded that like so many Human endeavours it's conceptually a good idea but in practice a little hazy in its implementation.

Perfect hijab job

I think I've inadvertently stumbled on the perfect job for Women who insist on covering themselves from head to toe in drab cloth in order to preserve their modesty (or buckle to misogynistic threats, depending on your point of view).

A few weeks ago I took my kids to Slimbridge wildfowl & wetlands trust for a nice day out, we had great fun feeding the birds and and one of the things we did was to listen to a lecture by a member of the staff there, she was talking about their on-going programme to re-introduce cranes to the UK. I didn't realise this but Cranes used to be a native UK species, sadly they were hunted to extinction back in the middle ages (for food!) However they remained fairly common on the European continent and the WWT are running a breeding program to reintroduce them here. My kids loved it especially the part where the people looking after the baby cranes have to dress up like a "mummy" crane so that the chicks don't become tame, retaining a fear of humans (for obvious reasons!)

When I received their newsletter recently and looked at the picture this thought suddenly struck me, a non-controversial role for traditional Islamic female attire, a job where there would actually be a reality based point to wearing an outfit like this, sounds ideal :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dying for dirt

I don't often have cause to point out Hindu inspired stupidity on this blog, this doesn't mean there isn't any of course it's probably more to do with the fact that there is so much Christian, Muslim and Jewish stupidity to keep me busy. Anyway, I came across this story today, it's about a long standing dispute between Muslims and Hindus regarding a small piece of dirt about 130ft by 90ft square in the city of Ayodhya which is in Northern India. Now when I say "long standing" I mean that one of the key points of contention is whether a temple was demolished on the orders of Mughal emperor Babar in 1528. Since then and in modern times more than 2000 people have died because, put simply, both sides of the dispute claim that this particular patch of turf is "magic". In the most recent round of violence Hindus tore down a mosque in 1992 (leading to much bloodshed) claiming that one of their deities, called "Rama" was born on the spot, ironically Rama is revered for his unending compassion. Adopting their usual "flexible" stance (not!) the Muslims seem unwilling to move their mosque, do I detect a trend emerging here?. In case you are wondering who Rama is, here's a picture of him (obviously I'm not allowed to show a picture of Mohammed or I'll get my throat cut by the followers of the "religion of peace").. a colourful character I'm sure you'll agree although if you ask me he looks like he could do with a session in a hyperbaric chamber..

Today, an Indian court has ruled that the site must be shared (because sharing religious shrines has a good track record of success...) one set of magic will be in force from Monday to Wednesday lunchtime and then will switch over to the other set of woo-woo over the weekend (or something...) trouble seems to be brewing as troops move into the area.

My solution would be to save a few lives by levelling all religious buildings on the site and then building a school, or maybe a hospital for everyone regardless of what myths they were indoctrinated with as children; I'm sure the Gods would approve.

Tony Curtis

I read today that Tony Curtis died in his sleep aged 85 at his home in Nevada. Unlike classic film fans who will probably know him best from movies like "Some like it hot" and "Spartacus" my most lasting memory of Tony Curtis was as Danny Wilde in the TV series "The Persuaders". First aired in 1971, (showing my age there) I used to love that series as a kid, Aston martins and Ferraris, what more could you want at the tender age of 9! It was a big hit here in the UK however never really took off in the USA, its only claim to fame is that it did launch Roger Moore into the James Bond role and the title music for the persuaders was even done by John Barry (of 007 theme-tune fame).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Science map

Check this out

A map of famous scientists all linked by subject showing how intertwined the different strands of science are and how today we stand on the shoulders of giants, I love the way the big names like Newton and Darwin are like major intersections on the map. Another outstanding effort from Crispian Jago

*Follow the link at the top of the post and then hover over each node to see a pop up that shows information for each scientist..

Isn't God amazing

This seems familiar..

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Red Ed faith head?

I'm not sure about Ed Miliband yet, he seems OK from what little I've heard of his speeches but then again Blair sounded OK in the beginning. In the press today he claims to be taking Labour down a new path, away from the Blair-Brown era; a new generation, new thinking, new politics, but then they all say that. What intrigues me is that according to the Guardian he's a "Jewish Atheist" which I assume to mean an Atheist of Jewish heritage (although why that would be different from a non-Jewish Atheist I'm not sure?) and he's the first party leader who's a father but not married, this is encouraging, he clearly doesn't pander to tradition.

What with Clegg and Miliband officially non-believers and Cameron only paying it lip service that's 2 out of three of our top politicians batting for the rational team and one on the fence, all this and not a goose step, Gulag or cultural revolution in sight, how strange?

The hight of cool?

We watched a really fascinating program last night on BBC2, it was about a new surgical technique that essentially involves cryogenics, i.e. the body of the patient is cooled down so that the heart stops, all the systems of the body shut down and brain activity reduces to zero, you could say that the patient is effectively dead, certainly by our current definition of what dead means. By cooling the core temperature of the patient in this way it gives surgeons a window of opportunity to perform vital repairs to major organs like the heart, in the example on the program last night the guy was effectively dead for about 40 minutes before being warmed up again and revived; he appeared to suffer no ill effects from this.

During the program the presenter also described an incident in Norway where a skier had fallen through some ice into a fast flowing river, her heart stopped and she was effectively dead for about three and a half hours before she arrived by helicopter to hospital where they warmed her up again and successfully revived her. This story and others like it provided an incentive to investigate this phenomenon for medical purposes.

I wonder if any of these dead people noticed any pearly gates, angels or bright inviting lights, oh come on you were thinking it too!

At least Atheists know what they don't believe

Interesting article in the New York Times today, it describes the results of a Pew survey on religion in America, 3,400 people were phoned and asked 32 questions about religion. The conclusion of the survey was that Americans are by all measures a deeply religious people but are also deeply ignorant about religion. Most people only got 50% of the questions right, most also flunked questions about their own religion.

The statistic I found most interesting was that the group of people with the best scores, i.e. those that knew most about religion were the atheists, yes, it seems that the best way to make an atheist is to give her a Bible or a Koran to study. This sounds about right to me since atheism and certainly the atheists I know are more often than not born out of an open minded and rational inquiry into the subject rather than via faith or by sticking rigidly to the dogma of the culture they happen to be born into.

Here are a couple of sample results,

- Fifty-three percent of Protestants could not identify Martin Luther as the man who started the Protestant Reformation.

- Forty-five percent of Catholics did not know that their church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine in holy communion are not merely symbols, but actually become the body and blood of Christ.

What can we say other than, "C- could try harder"...

Monday, September 27, 2010

The birds and the bees

I read an interesting article on the BBC web site today it's about a recent trend in America that has seen an increase in parents attempting to ban certain books and other learning materials from their children's schools, essentially reflecting an increased desire to censor what children are allowed to see and read in school over and above the filtering already implemented by their teachers and the schools themselves. The New Humanist magazine also had a more detailed assessment of this trend.

Most of the objections centre around sex of course, occasionally it's something more tangential like politics or offensive language but generally the article points a finger at our biological impulses as the root cause of most disputes. Another interesting comment is about how the systems in the USA and the UK are different, apparently these kinds of objections are much more common there than they are here. This may be to do with the more fine grained control that US school boards have over local schools than local constituents do here, it is almost unheard of that people object to particular books etc. in the UK. Religion too must presumably play a big part in this, primary motivator probably, the UK is much less religious than the US even though the US have an enviable clarity of separation of church and state. Evolution remains a religious bone of contention in some parts of the USA, although hopefully that trend is going in the right direction now.

So what is the "right" time for the birds and the bees conversation? As a father of youngsters myself it's a topic that seems like an imponderable, when an advert appeared on TV featuring a naked man in a car showroom my 9 year old son recently looked at me quizzically (of course there was always something covering his modesty like a cactus or a loaf of French bread etc. which was the joke) he asked "but Dad why is this funny and why won't they show his penis?" I felt like a giggling schoolboy whose teacher had just told him to grow up, it's only a naked person! Times do change, when I was his age I probably used see half a dozen feature films a year, now he sees that many a week, even innocuous things like Indiana Jones have "adult" themes in certain scenes and anything that's remotely interesting and challenging has the odd swear word or two. I always think that if parents make a big deal of these things they become so much more attractive; as soon as my kids realise that their parents know all about something and can explain it rationally in a mundane matter of fact way then they seem to loose interest quite quickly, it's a theory at least.

In the beginning..