"Religion is a hypothesis about the world: the hypothesis that things are the way they are, at least in part, because of supernatural entities or forces acting on the natural world. And there's no good reason to treat it any differently from any other hypothesis. Which includes pointing out its flaws and inconsistencies, asking its adherents to back it up with solid evidence, making jokes about it when it's just being silly, offering arguments and evidence for our own competing hypotheses...and trying to persuade people out of it if we think it's mistaken. It's persuasion. It's the marketplace of ideas. Why should religion get a free ride"

Greta Christina

Friday, 29 January 2010

Teaching faith

I have a problem with faith schools. Whilst I know they are all audited by OFSTED and are supposed to follow the national curriculum, it is inevitable that a good deal of what the children get taught will be nuanced in such a way as to reinforce particular religious prejudices.
It’s problematic enough when in a non-church school your children get exposed to the religion of individual teachers (this happened recently with my ten year old daughter) but when the school is explicitly religious what are the chances that evolution will be taught properly without the taint of Intelligent Design.
In the U.K faith based schools are on the rise. There has long been a tradition of Church of England and Catholic primary schools in this country (get ‘em young) and a growing number of Muslim schools. Now the first Hindu Primary School is just about to open.
I think if children are going to be immersed in their parents’ religion at home the least the state can do is insist they have an opportunity to get a secular worldview at school. As Dawkins says, there are no Christian, Muslim or Hindu children; only children of Christian, Muslim or Hindu parents. Allowing them to ghettoise those children in single faith schools will not serve the cause of social integration or give them access to the necessary critical thinking skills they will inevitably need.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Burqa ban O.K (on the face of it).

President Sarkozy of France backed by a parliamentary panel is looking for a complete ban on the Burqa in the country. Although there is some prevarication over whether this will only apply in public buildings such as hospitals and government offices or a wider public ban, the government there seems intent on applying some level of control.
From my perspective this is one of those issues that treads a very fine human rights tightrope.
It is clear to me that in western society we can rightly be suspicious of someone who does not reveal their face to the world. We judge people’s character and intent on all of those subtle signals that faces betray and actually I would feel insulted if a woman in a full veil expected me not to be suspicious. You cannot take a person at face value if you cannot see their face.
It is also easy to see the veil as an attack on women’s equality. Muslim society does not treat women as equals and the burqa is visible evidence of that. Allowing Islam to undermine those advances in equality we have achieved in the west in the name of cultural relativism seems a retrograde step.
However some would argue otherwise, Including some Muslim women themselves, so it is difficult to see how a ban could avoid being construed as harming their human rights.
It is also the case of course that the Burqa is not a requirement of Islam, it is a cultural artefact of middle eastern society in general and its associations with Islam are a more recent phenomenon.
The one argument against a ban that should have no credence whatsoever though is the threat that it will incite further violence from Muslim extremists. That they have chosen to equate the veil with a fundamental notion of Islam and see this as a religious attack is not a reason to shy away from the cultural, secular and gender equality reasons behind it.
On balance, although I’m not instinctively in favour of banning things, I think more good than harm will come of ensuring we can recognise who we are sharing our space with. In the west anonymity is synonymous with subterfuge and mal-intent. On a practical level banning the Burqa in public is no different from a shopping mall banning hoodies, so I don’t think France’s ban (should it go ahead) to be too problematic.
Whether a similar approach could be taken in the U.K is debatable.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Giving in to the Taliban

I was struck with this headline today and in particular the juxtaposition of the next few paragraphs

The Pakistani army launched major ground offensives in 2009 in the north-west against Pakistani Taliban strongholds in the Swat region, last April, and in South Waziristan, last October.
The militants have hit back with a wave of suicide bombings and attacks that have killed hundreds of people across Pakistan.
In the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Thursday, Maj Gen Abbas, head of public relations for the Pakistan army, told the BBC: "We are not going to conduct any major new operations against the militants over the next 12 months.

Even if the Pakistani government was sincere in its inability to start new offensive initiatives, publicly stated in this way it is all Islamic terrorists anywhere need to convince them of the effectiveness of their vile tactics.
It is tantamount to saying, “we attacked you and suffered the consequences. Sorry, we won’t do it again".

Monday, 18 January 2010

God will provide

It’s difficult to imagine the depth of despair being experienced by the survivors of the Haitian earthquake. Relief efforts, coordinated by the U.N are being severely hampered by the damage to infrastructure and the sheer weight of logistical problems and frustrations are building among the people leading to riots and episodes of looting.
This is understandable, if regrettable. What are also perhaps understandable are the appeals to God, and impromptu outdoor services that are inevitable in a religious and superstitious culture. But one comment from a Haitian pastor interviewed on radio 4 this morning really struck me as foul and irresponsible. If I can find a link I’ll add it later, but in essence the sentiment was this:
We have lost faith in the Government, we have lost faith in the U.N and the ability of aid workers to help. We have only faith in God, who will provide. We can only pray and await his decision.

No doubt when the tirelessly working aid agencies, the U.N, the U.S army struggling to help his faithful flock, finally deliver the aid he has no faith will come, it is God that will get the credit. Not the real human heroes on the ground, nor the millions of people, or the national governments pouring in money and resources as fast as possible. No, it will be God that did it. This will be same God who, presumably, won’t be condemned for the earthquake in the first place.

Update: The U.S have commenced air drops
Look out for claims of "Manna from heaven".

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Haiti: A human tragedy

When disaster strikes as devastatingly as it has done this week in Haiti it takes your breath away. This tiny nation has suffered a history of floods, hurricanes and eathquakes for most of its existence and is all the less able to cope due to extreme poverty and poor governance.
Aid agencies,religious, governmental and secular are mobilising to assist with the rescue efforts and the best most of us can do is make sure we donate as much as we can to enable them to do their work. I am suggesting Partners in Health a U.S organisation already established in Haiti that also has the advantage of being secular as far as I can see (hat tip: Joanna at Daylight Atheism ).

Reluctant as I am to make atheist capital out of this tragedy, when natural disaster strikes it is hard not to wonder whether the religious see the hand of their oh so loving God at work. What level of cognitive dissonance would it take to resolve that thought?

U.S evangelist Pat Robertson has found a good reason though. Apparently the Haitians once made a pact with the devil to escape slavery from the French and the earthquake is divine retribution.

His organisation elaborated on the comment later in the day.
"Dr. Robertson never stated that the earthquake was God's wrath," the statement went on. It added that "Dr. Robertson's compassion for the people of Haiti is clear. He called for prayer for them."

"called for prayer"? that's really the best he can offer?

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Going underground?

Home secretary Alan Johnson is to ban the group Islam4uk which recently called off its intention to protest in Wootton Bassett.

Now I don't like these people any more than the government does. Their aims are despicable, their language inflammatory and they seem to be taking advantage of free speech and U.K benefits to wage a hate campaign against the very society they live in. BUT whenever we proscribe organisations like this, the end result is to drive them out of plain sight, allowing them to continue underground under a new name.

Let them say what they like within the law. When individual members transgress prosecute and jail them if possible, but don't make a martyr of the organisation by banning it.

Alan Johnson has given these fundementalist idiots exactly what they want; attention and the oxygen of publicity.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Blackberry and Apple Pie in the Sky

So the Reverend Canon David Parrott adapted a service used for blessing ploughshares to bestow God's blessings on those icons of cities everywhere the iPhone and the Blackberry. The bit that creases me up is this.
"By Your blessing, may these phones and computers, symbols of all the technology and communication in our daily lives be a reminder to us that you are a God who communicatures with us and who speaks by your Word. Amen."

Yeah right! A God whose last "communication" was a garbled mish-mash of post hoc rationalisations cobbled together two millenia ago (unless you count the 7th century cameo spot co-starring Mohammed).. If the bible was an email it would have to come with the standard caveat "opinions expressed in this communication are not necessarily those of the management". Since then he never phones, he never writes. You would almost think he'd ceased to exist.

Another drop in the ocean

Probably the last thing the web really needs right now is another atheist blogger. There seems to be a growing number of really well informed writers shouting the atheist message loud and clear,attracting atheist and theist commentors alike.

However I make no apology for joining in the chatter as every atheist who makes their presence felt out in the world makes it easier for others to air their disbeliefs. Besides I need something to occupy myself in those odd dull times at work when I want a moment away from good old MS Excel.

So this is just a short hello, to break my blogging silence. Laters!