"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

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Stop the NHS paying quacks

A rare outbreak of scientific rationality has occurred in parliament where a committee of MPs has recommended that the N.H.S no longer fund Homeopathic therapies

Good old royal wingnut Prince Charles, famous for his lack of sceptical thinking has stuck in his two pennies worth and it appears he has even had secret talks with ministers to try and safeguard access to homeopathy.

Let’s be clear about this. Homeopathy is pure quackery, revealed in several tests to be no better than a placebo; which is hardly surprising as there is no effective active ingredient in homeopathic “remedies”.

I’m sure there will be a plethora of how homeopathy cured my cancer anecdotes coming out of the woodwork shortly, but as the saying goes the plural of anecdote is not data, and the real data we do have proves it is useless as medicine.

At a time when we need to regulate our spending on vital N.H.S services, saving the 4 million pounds currently going to homeopathy is a fine idea.

U.K Sex Education Bill, U turn

The U.K government is due to debate a long awaited sex education bill today, which will make compulsory in all schools the teaching of sexual relationships as well as the biology.
The bill provides for issues such as same sex relationships, abortion and contraception to be taught in an unbiased way that promotes equality and diversity.

Predictably some faith groups have a problem with this, as they would rather be allowed to continue to spout their homophobic abstinence only drivel at impressionable children instead of giving them objective facts.
Education minister Ed Balls has sadly given in to this religious lobbying and added an amendment to allow faith schools to teach the curriculum in a way “consistent with the religious ethos of the school” which as far as I can see gives them carte blanche to continue indoctrinating their pupils with dangerous and antisocial dogma.

On a Today program interview, Ed Balls claimed that schools would be legally required to teach that alternative views existed so there was no “watering down of the bill”, but this is na├»ve. There is nothing to stop schools telling pupils that “yes, there are other views, but they’re wrong and you’ll go to hell if you use a condom”.

State funded schools should not be allowed to teach according to their faiths but according to objective facts and in accordance with the law. Children attending faith schools will already have had the biblical and qu’ranic view from their parents at home. School is where they should hear the truth; Homosexuality is about who you are, not a sinful lifestyle choice. Condoms do reduce the risk of disease and reduce unwanted pregnancies, and abortion is a woman’s right to choose if they so wish.
Next, faith schools will be insisting on teaching “both sides” of the “evolution controversy” by exactly the same reasoning that won them this amendment..
This amendment is wrong and I hope it will be defeated.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Stephen Fry debates " is catholicism a force for good"

This is brilliant (with a hat tip to CaptainZero1969 who posted this on Atheist Quote of the Day)

U.K Hindu cremations legal. Yay!!

The U.K court of appeal finally ruled that a Hindu had the right under U.K law to have a traditional open air Hindu cremation when he dies.
Fantastic! I want one. Well not a Hindu one obviously but...well, although I have organised a humanist funeral at our local crematorium, the rows of pews, the bibles and other religious paraphernalia slightly undermined the secular intent of the occasion. So for my own funeral I also would like a big funeral pyre somewhere out in the open countryside, free from religious hocus-pocus and close to the evolved majesty of nature.
That is of course, unless someone decides this ruling only applies to Hindus. Want to take bets anyone?

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

It's "faith" Tom, but not as we know it.

BBC Radio 4 had Dr Tom Butler the present Bishop of Southwark on its thought for the day spot this morning.
Now I rather like Tom Butler, he’s a scientist as well as a theologian and he leans towards a rational, liberal form of Christianity that includes allowing women Bishops and support for gender equality. In a short piece, with mainly humanist content he did though make one comment with which I strongly disagree.
Bemoaning what he sees as the unnecessary conflict between science and religion he pointed out that physicists now believe that the universe is
Full of matter which we can’t see and driven by a force we don’t understand
So far so true in that he is referring to dark matter and dark energy, both of which have been inferred (though never seen) from observation of the expansion of the universe.
However Dr Butler then added
If that’s not faith, I don’t know what is.
This is a disingenuous comment and as a trained scientist I am sure Dr Butler knows it.
It is wrong for two reasons:
Firstly, dark matter and energy are theories that explain real observations of the universe and like all true scientific theories they are open to falsification by further observation and experiment. Scientists “believe” in them only to the extent that, to date, observations tend to confirm their existence. But it’s early days and finer grained observations of the universe may well modify those theories.
Secondly, Dr Butler is committing the logical fallacy of equivocation in which he is substituting the common usage of faith (I have faith in my ability) with religious faith (I have faith in Jesus) which are quite different things. In common parlance we have “faith” in things we know to be real and reliable, but we soon lose that faith should they prove to be false or unreliable. Religious faith requires unquestioning belief in something or someone without evidence and sometimes despite strong evidence to the contrary.
As I said, as a trained scientist and theologian Dr Butler would be more than aware of these distinctions but as a minister he obviously could not resist indulging in this typical tactic of Christian apologetics. What a pity.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Sikh, to find concealed weapons

Britain’s first Sikh judge has criticised schools for not allowing Sikh pupils to wear a ceremonial dagger called a Kirpan to school.
Typically made from iron, kirpans range in blade size from 3 inches (7.6 cm) to over 3 feet (90 cm), though Sikhs in the West wear kirpans with a blade of about 3.5 inches (9 cm). Most Sikhs wear the kirpan under their clothes and most people observing a random Sikh would not be aware that he was carrying a kirpan.
Well excuse me, but a three inch dagger is a three inch dagger, whether it’s a religious adornment or not and they have no place in schools.
Apparently Sikhs carrying the Kirpan are exempt from prosecution under the offensive weapons act, which to my mind is taking tolerance too far. No religion should be exempt from any law applicable to the general public, whether it is the established religion of the land or an ethnic one like Sikhism. Maybe I should make it an article of my (lack of) faith that I carry a loaded revolver about my person at all times. I wonder if I could claim discrimination over that?

Thursday, 4 February 2010

G.B.H? It pays to be religious

Well it’s nice to know that these religious types stick together. Apparently if you’ve got the devoutly catholic Cherie Blair, wife of erstwhile Prime Minister Tony, for a judge you can get a lighter sentence if you’re a devout Muslim..
Shamso Miah had been convicted of breaking a man's jaw with two punches after a dispute in a bank queue in East Ham, London. He had gone to the bank from a local mosque. During sentencing Ms Blair (or more correctly “Booth” as that his her professional name) said:
“I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before, You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.”
So, fair enough if the guy had previously been of good character, maybe a suspended sentence was good enough, but what has being religious got to do with it?
Well the answer is obvious of course, In Cherie’s mind a religious person is a good person, while nasty old atheists should get everything they deserve.
Now although the data is a bit shaky, it seems that in the U.K there are about the same percentage of atheists in prison as there are atheists in the general population, and the same is generally true for people who claim a faith (I have no statistics of how that breaks down between faiths). So there really is no reason to suppose an atheist of previously good character is any more liable to re-offend than a theist.
Besides which at the extremes we know that theists can commit some of the most evil deeds around. I hope the next time a would be islamic terrorist, or gay bashing christian goes to trial Cherie Blair isn’t there to let them off with a caution.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Carry on discriminating

Why should religious institutions in the U.K be exempt from some aspects of employment law?
Legislation was underway for an amendment to the Equality Bill 2008-09 to 2009-10 to clarify the legal position of religious organisations wanting to discriminate on the grounds of gender and sexual orientation. As things stand, they maybe in breach of the law in that they extend this discrimination to lay appointments as well as to clergy, although the Catholic and Anglican churches deny the law covers those appointments. Harriet Harman, the U.K employment minister, introduced an amendment to state that the law in fact covered lay appointments but not clerical posts. This amendment failed to pass in the House of Lords due to strong opposition from the Lords Spiritual, but was widely expected to be reintroduced when the bill went back to the commons.
It now appears this is not to be as the government has backed down.
Religious voices are of course hailing this as a victory for religious freedom but what it is, is a licence for the homophobes and misogynists in churches, mosques and synagogues everywhere to refuse legitimate employment for a substantial percentage of the British population.
Notice as well that the amendment was only a clarification. The churches are hiding behind an ambiguity in the law in order to discriminate in this way.
Now personally I think equality laws should apply to all aspects of employment. In fact even to clergy. It should be possible for a woman or gay individual to take the Catholic Church to court in the U.K if they are refused appointment as a priest or bishop on the grounds of gender. Why not! Why should these purveyors of Neolithic morality and superstition be allowed to flout laws that quite rightly affect secular organisations?
However I am not holding my breath for that kind of rationality to enter U.K law anytime soon. But, for the government to walk away from explicitly protecting equality of employment for lay appointments shows a woeful lack of commitment to the whole equality agenda.
It is this kind of issue that makes me so strongly in favour of an elected upper chamber. It is time the privileged position of the Anglican Bishops in our legislature was ended for good so we can elect some rational minds into the House of Lords.

Pope's visit on U.K tax payer is Papal bullshit

You know? I really don’t give a Ratzinger’s arse if Pope Benedict XVI vists Great Britain as he is planning to do. However I do object to the U.K tax payer stumping up £20million for him to do it. If he wants to come here and promote his particularly wacko form of catholicism to his faithful flock, fine but not on my hard earned money thank-you very much. The National Secular Society has an online petition against the government funding this trip and if like me you would rather this misogynistic and homophobic ex nazi paid for his own ticket I urge you to sign it.

Thanks to P.Z.Myers at Pharyngula for alerting me to this.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Praying for atheism

We have an Australian friend staying with us at the moment and as we live near Canterbury, we did the tourist thing and went around the cathedral.
They have a lecturn supplied with pens and post-it notes where visitors can write a prayer to be read out at the next service. So, I know it's childish, but I couldn't resist offering this one.
May all the people of the world come to realise there is probably no God
I doubt it will get read out, but as there is probably no God to answer it I'm not too bothered.

Kidnapping for Jesus

10 Americam Baptist have been arrested in Haiti while attempting to bus 33 “orphans” across the border to the Dominican Republic.
Their plan apparently was to “scoop up” 100 hundred children from the streets of Port-au-Prince, take them to a beach hotel in the Dominican Republic and there set up an orphanage from where they could be adopted.
Now I’m not suggesting that there was any real mal-intent here, although the Haitian authorities are quite rightly treating this as a potential child trafficking case. But actually I believe these Christian people were genuine in their desire to help.
Which is actually even scarier!
One of the ten was allowed to talk to a BBC reporter and the interview was broadcast on the Radio 4 “Today” program.
All we want to do is take these children somewhere they can be safe and experience God’s love
The problem is, some of these kids have already been proved not to be orphans at all, and besides UNICEF already has many child resettlement camps established in Haiti which as well as caring for children’s immediate needs are attempting to reunite them with their parents or members of their extended family.
What these American Christians have displayed in a staggering degree of religious and cultural arrogance, which I would say is a direct result of religious fervour. No secular charity would behave in this way, but this group's certainty that the primary thing these children require is “God’s love” has blinded them to the harm they are doing. If I was being completely cynical I would say this was really the only way they intended the children to be “saved”.
Personally I hope the Haitian authorities pursue the charge of attempted child trafficking. Good intentions in this case are no excuse for evading responsibility for the harm they could cause these children.