Thursday, October 30, 2014


The media seems to be buzzing with the news today that Tim Cook (above) CEO of Apple has announced that he is gay. Good on him I say, it's a stone in the shoe of all those bigots who cling to Bronze Age attitudes towards gay people, i.e. he's living proof that being gay has nothing to do with what kind of person you are nor how successful or talented you can be; it's a simple fact of Biology and in the end Biology will always trump ancient mythology and ignorant prejudice.

The thing that surprises me more is that this is news at all, most people I know have known Tim Cook is gay for years now, it's about as interesting as knowing his lens prescription.


Cinema goers in Hong-Kong filmed watching a public information video; a neat way of making an important message memorable.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pope speak

Pope Francis made a speech recently at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, in it he declared that the big bang and evolution are true and that pseudo-science like "intelligent design" and creationism are false. I agree and he should have left it there but unfortunately he went on to spoil an otherwise sensible statement by saying that these scientific theories do not contradict the idea of a creator but "require it".

We only need unpack that last sentence a tiny wee bit to see that intelligent design is exactly what is being suggested here, albeit in a fuzzy, weasel-worded way. What Pope Francis is hinting at is "purpose" in evolution, some notion that although evolution happens it was directed by God. His view seems to be that God created the first protozoa and the rules of the game such that some master plan lead inevitably to Human Beings, souls, sin and redemption, i.e. all the unfalsifiable and specific cultural junk his organisation relies upon. Why would any creator rely on such a torturous route spanning 4.5 billion years and trillions upon trillions of random mutations and extinctions to arrive at something that he can apparently conceive of (in its entirety) right at the beginning anyway?

He gives the game away by claiming that "God created Human Beings", if this is true then evolution must have had a purpose and must therefore be guided by something, this is precisely what the intelligent design brigade say. The evidence that we see all around us confirms that this is not true, evolution is an unguided process, it has to be since it rests upon the random initiator of genetic mutation and populations are then sculpted by the non-random process of natural selection. It is extreme anthropomorphism (hyper-ego in other words) to think that our particular species of primate (Homo Sapiens) is the focus, indeed the purpose of the entire universe. Based on what we now know about the character and scale of the universe through the laws of physics it's is hard to think of a more ridiculous and conceited idea than this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The argument from ignorance

This is so true, and the certainty with which it is usually asserted is a dead give-away that ignorance is the driving force. As the philosopher Bertrand Russell wisely said, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cultural relics

This is not a politically correct statement but one I firmly believe is true.

Some cultures and religious dogmas are long past their sell-by date and need to be re-imagined and reformed; most urgently by their constituents.

See the story behind the picture here..

Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm not a gamer but...

I realise the title of this post sounds a lot like the usual opening salvo you get from religious apologists who say things like "I'm not religious but...(insert oxymoron here)" I'm not a gamer (any more) but, there seems to be a lot of unnecessary angst being expressed at the moment about sexism in video games it even has a name... gamergate. Many prominent feminists are getting very upset about it and the topic is starting to creep into the mainstream media.

I'm with this lady (see video above) who rightly points out that games (like books, films, plays, operas and pantomimes) are supposed to contain ideas that allow us to escape from reality, they're supposed to allow us to imagine situations and acts that we would never do in our real lives, it's kind of the point of them. It's not like every game contains characters that run around raping women characters (key word here is "characters") - a tiny minority of games do; but they are certificate 18, i.e. adults only. In terms of content that may cause harm or offence, I don't see any real distinction between grand-theft-auto and say the film reservoir dogs; you would expect that the vast majority of people would see both as fiction. Of course, I wouldn't for a moment suggest that the gaming community doesn't have a standard bell curve in terms of psychopaths and socio-paths but those guys just need to be caught and locked up like they would if they were part of any other interest group, for example, doctors, engineers or cannibalistic psychiatrists.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Use it or lose it..

It's a shame many people still don't agree with this and remain in favour of religious privilege or as is often the case protect bad ideas because they believe all ideas are equal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Should have seen it coming ..

Psychic Sally Morgan is in trouble again; members of her family have been threatening sceptic Mark Tilbrook with violence and targeting him with homophobic insults. All of this thuggish behaviour was captured on film by Tilbrook who was peacefully handing out leaflets (see above) outside a theatre hosting one of Morgans' psychic shows. The threats were particularly sinister, at one point Morgans' husband (the main protagonist) says that Tilbrook will be “lifted” and “disappear”; the entire confrontation can be seen on YouTube here. Since these unsavoury revelations were made public Morgan has supposedly "sacked" her husband (who I assume worked for her), although unfortunately she has not yet apologised or offered recompense to Tilbrook who, as can be seen from content of the leaflet he was handing out, has done nothing but suggest that emotionally vulnerable people think for themselves.

I'd be surprised if the police didn't have something to chat with the Morgan family about after this episode (although I doubt anything substantive will happen) and you'd think that such controversy would put people off paying hard earned cash to someone who employs such thuggery to protect her business interests. In my view it's about time such exploitative "entertainment" was at least more closely investigated/regulated and ideally banned; until then sceptics will have to continue to highlight the issue and present the evidence based side of this argument.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Perfect books

Jesus and Mo nails it again...

Now I see how it works..

Te he he...

Human Universe

Unusually for me I carved out an hour last night to watch TV. Science poster boy Prof. Brian Cox started a new series called "Human Universe", the show is about our species and the first instalment discussed possible environmental reasons for the evolution of primates with big brains in the Great Rift Valley of Eastern Africa as well as the development of civilisations, writing and subsequently science and space travel.  It was a nicely made programme although as usual with these kinds of series I felt I could have done with more detail on the science especially the bits about evolution (i.e. more exposure of the evidence). Anyway, the points were made clearly and the photography wonderful; I even noticed a Metallica track being used in one of the sequences, not a band you hear on mainstream TV much.

No doubt further detail will follow in the "Christmas book" :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Persistent memes

It's amazing what people believe just because they've been told it's true by a credible source (like a parent, a teacher or a priest). Click on the above image to see a bigger view, I must confess to actually believing some of these things; for example I did think dogs couldn't sweat (they can through their feet!) and that an Iron Maiden was in fact a medieval torture instrument (it's a 19th century fake) as well as a brilliant 80's metal band of course.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Not all Muslims..

Batman actor Ben Affleck sparked a much heated and tweeted debate on the Bill Maher show last week; things got edgy when Affleck accused Maher and guest Sam Harris of being racist for criticising Islam. Affleck seemed to be suffering from the exact same cognitive dissonance regarding the rational criticism of "ideas" (like religions) that Harris and Maher were trying to describe. He seemed comfortable saying that as Liberals we should attack bad ideas but threw a hissy fit when the subject of attack was religion and specifically Islam.

I must say I thought Affleck embarrassed himself, he reacted like someone who's been living under a rock for the last 15 years and someone who had never read or digested any of the arguments against his position. He also didn't listen to the points being made and relied heavily on emotion and hurling insults at straw-men.

The debate (so far as it was) followed very familiar lines, any Atheist who has debated religious apologists will be totally familiar with the fatuous defences that Affleck so dramatically unleashed. The first fallacy he used was that you can't hold an opinion on something unless you are an expert on it. Unfortunately for Affleck, Sam Harris, is by any everyday definition an expert on religion and philosophy; he has a Philosophy degree from Stanford and has studied world religions and neuroscience among other things; not to mention having authored many books on the subject. In any case this is a totally bogus idea; I don't need to be a climate scientist to understand that if my house is 3 meters underwater it's absolutely not a good thing for me. Next we had a variation of the "all or nothing" fallacy, or as is more common these days the "not all Muslims" fallacy.

When someone says religious doctrine or practise X is bad or stupid or evil the apologist immediately responds with "not all Christians/Muslims/Jews believe in X" as if somehow this removes the objection. When X is only believed by a tiny, insignificant fringe then this is a valid point however when it's widely practised by millions of followers or enshrined into law by theocratic states then this argument (although factual) is at best irrelevant and at worst a blatant attempt to distract attention from reality. Do all Muslims want to kill apostates? No, of course they don't but do we really have disagreement that when 64% of Muslims in Egypt (pew 2013) say death for apostasy is justified then we have a sufficiently large number of Muslims (54 million) to warrant a strong opinion if not outright alarm. This is not a small number of "bad apples" it's more like the entire population of the UK believing it's reasonable to burn witches.

The next fallacy was the classic "straw-man", when Harris says "Islam is the mother-lode of bad ideas" and Affleck responds by saying it's "gross and racist" to claim that "all Muslims are bad" this is a blatant twisting of what was actually said. Harris is attacking an IDEA, i.e. Islam and Affleck is attacking a straw man that he invented i.e. "all Muslims", only a fool would say that all Muslims are bad, these two things are simply NOT the same.

On balance I think that high profile spats like this are useful. People who otherwise don't follow politics or have any opinion on the "war of ideas" that is causing so much strife in the Middle East at the moment are suddenly engaged because their favourite movie star is involved. Some of those people may go on to do their own research and formulate their own views on such topics, this can only be a good thing, an enlightening thing. I do think Affleck is genuine though and until this programme I had thought he was one of the more enlightened actors on political/religious issues. I thought his film Argo was a brave and interesting movie which touched on some of these topics; however in this exchange he simply reinforced an impression of a stereotypical Hollywood pretty boy. Hopefully we will see this thread continue to stimulate conversation and debate, if Affleck has the guts to clarify, defend or even recant some of the things he said then even better.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Pig gets drunk, fights cow.

Saw this story in the news this morning, it made me laugh out loud. Apparently a wild pig in Australia stole cans of beer from careless campers, necked it down and then got into an altercation with a cow... we've all been there..

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

BBC Scotland has a bad day