"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

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Relate therapist's appeal refused

Sacked therapist Gary McFarlane has been refused leave to appeal his dismissal in the high court.
In a welcome ruling Lord Justice Laws said
legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified.
and that it was also
divisive, capricious and arbitrary
As I reported here Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has attempted to influence the way our courts treat Christian beliefs, and it appears that Justice Laws agrees with me saying
it was possible that Lord Carey's mistaken suggestions arose from a misunderstanding of the law on discrimination.
It is encouraging that the court has rejected the special pleading that some Christians assume as their right in flouting anti-discrimination laws and hopefully this will end attempts to gain legal exception.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

ASBO and fine for U.K atheist

So this is the special protection the British courts are prepared to give to religion. It seems an atheist called Harry Taylor left some religiously offensive cartoons in an airport prayer room and he was found guilty of three counts of causing religiously aggravated harassment during his trial at Liverpool Crown Court.
He has been fined, given a six month suspended prison sentence and an anti social behaviour order preventing him from from carrying anti-religious leaflets in public.
As has been said many times, nobody has the right not to be offended and although Mr Taylor obviously did this on purpose to provoke, his conviction opens the door for any self righteous religious idiot to bring a similar case.
Note the ASBO prevents him carrying this material “in a public space” and not just into religious establishments with intent to offend. Where does this leave atheist stand-up or secular posters challenging religion? Bearing in mind that even the suggestion that their precious sky fairy is a myth offends many theists.
The material Mr Taylor left in the prayer room mocked several religions,
Among the posters, one image showed a smiling crucified Christ next to an advert for a brand of "no nails" glue
In another, a cartoon depicted two Muslims holding a placard demanding equality with the caption: "Not for women or gays, obviously."
Islamic suicide bombers at the gates of paradise were told in another: "Stop, stop, we've run out of virgins." ...
So while not perhaps the most sensitive thing to leave around a non secular building they are for the most part either extremely apposite or just plain funny. Not worth a prison sentence, suspended or not.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Science on the Beeb

D’ya know? I’m not the nationalistic type. There are very few things that cause me to promote the country and culture I happen to have been born in above any other. But sometimes one particular British institution inspires in me a modicum of union flag waving.
The BBC, funded as it is by the British T.V license payer seems to me to fulfil its remit to educate, entertain and inform with such consistent rationality I almost relish my license renewal reminder.
In case you haven’t noticed the Beeb has been doing science particularly well lately. We have just finished the excellent Museum of Life which, as well as taking us behind the scenes of the British Natural History Museum, gave us excellent science history presented by scientists, without any creationist apologetic or post modernist equivocation.
Now we have The Story of Science explaining how the evolution of scientific thought and method has brought us to the understanding of the world we have today.
In the opening sequence of the first episode presenter Michael Mosley says

Of all human endeavours, science has had the most impact on our lives…it is a tale of power, proof and passion
He then proceeds to take us through a historical rollercoaster of evidence about the extent of the universe, taking in along the way; Tycho, Keppler, the reformation, Galileo, Halley, Newton and Hubble.
He is constantly mindful of the social, political and religious context of the advances that were made and presents them factually, debunking the orthodoxy when necessary without fear or favour. I'm scheduling this one on Sky+ for sure.
Given the international reach of the BBC, particularly in the de facto theocracy of the U.S I am truly proud of this cultural ambassador of ours which is fast becoming one of the best advocates of science in the world.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Nick Glegg declares himsef atheist on live T.V. Cool!

I can hardly contain my joy at this point. In U.K politics a serious contender for the post of Prime Minister of this country has declared himself to be an atheist.
On the live Prime Ministerial debate Nick Clegg, in response to a question on the imminent visit by the Pope said
I am not a man of faith.
It gets better because his wife is a Catholic and they have agreed to instruct their kids in her faith, meaning that he is demonstrating tolerance along with rational atheism.
I’ll declare a political intrerest here: I am (surprise!) socially and politically Liberal and liberal which means I will as always vote for the Liberal candidate. But this statement on national television vindicates every vote I have ever cast. Fuck me! Even Gordon had to admit to being a Presbyterian in order to answer the question.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Just a rant about trolls

What is it with theist trolls that post on atheist websites? I mean, it’s not as though atheists object to challenges to their world view, in fact most would welcome them if they offered something new to think about; but they so rarely do.
The usual modus operandi of these individuals is to ignore the subject of the original post, tell you that you know naff all and then threaten you with hell and damnation.
The bizarre thing is that that all of them think this is valid argument, likely to either persuade you of the error of your ways or influence other commenters. It has to make you wonder how these people negotiate their everyday social and professional lives. Presumably some of them must work for a living; have families, colleagues, friends and acquaintances they talk to? How do they miss the basic etiquette of debate and disagreement? How do they navigate the offline world? It honestly makes not an ounce of sense to me.
The thing is, whenever I’ve found myself on theist blogs or news items, the atheist commenters always (well mostly always) comment rationally, politely and with responses inviting debate and discussion; I’ve never seen an atheist troll (“There’s no God: Nyah Nyah!”).
To be fair there are some very good theist commenters on the web who will engage atheists in reasonable debate and I hold them in high regard (not least because it is a difficult logical position to defend) but they really are few and far between on the atheosphere.
Unfortunately I am drawn to the obvious conclusion that theism is essentially an irrational belief that attracts irrational people. If there are any rational theists reading this who would like to demonstrate that I am wrong, you know what to do…

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Archbishop's new clothes

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey and other church leaders are set to urge senior judges to stand down from Court of Appeal hearings involving religious discrimination, claiming they should be replaced with a panel of judges who have a proven understanding of religious issues.
The move has been prompted by recent cases where Christians have been dismissed from their employment for refusing to offer services to same sex couples, and appeals to the courts have failed.
I have no sympathy with this position whatsoever. In the first place people engaging professionally with the general population, particularly when they are paid by the public purse, should not be able to withhold services from anyone on the basis of their personal prejudice and secondly, the degree of understanding of religious issues by the presiding judge is totally irrelevant.
Lord Carey is indulging in what P.Z Myers has dubbed the The Courtier’s Reply. In a hypothetical argument following the Hans Anderson tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” the Courtier maintains that the young boy* cannot accuse the Emperor of being naked because
He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor's boots, nor does he give a moment's consideration to Bellini's masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor's Feathered Hat.
However regardless of the minutia of royal fashion, the Emperor is still butt naked. Similarly, regardless of which bits of obscure Christian doctorine lead people to deny services to same sex couples, it is still discriminatory.
The church must not be allowed to reframe this as discrimination against religion. Nobody is saying these people cannot hold to their belief, but if they want to work in an area of public service to which same sex couples need access, they must work within the law and not discriminate on gender grounds. If they take their dismissals to appeal, as they have every right to do, they must accept that a judge will rule in accordance with the law, not in accordance with some interpretation of scripture in which the judge requires no expertise whatsoever.

*actually used satirically to defend Richard Dawkins against the accusation that he is not an accomplished theologian

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Cameron's "Big Idea". Fine but there are risks!

David Cameron and the Conservatives have today unveiled their manifesto and their “big idea” for social engagement that will change Britain for better.
Now as someone who grew up in the Thatcherite era I’m not a natural Tory supporter and for other reasons I will not be a Tory voter. But I have some empathy with the idea that a government would actively promote the involvement of local communities in running the important aspects of their lives. With one caveat: but an important one. If as Cameron suggests this will “include allowing people to set up their own schools” there needs to be some serious oversight involved.
In the first place there is a duty on government to provide a good standard of state education for all citizens of this country to access. If your local school is failing, it is an abdication of that responsibility if the government gives you carte blanche to set up an alternative without first trying to correct the failing. Secondly, there needs to be rational guidelines on what is taught in privately run schools.
Of course you know where this is going, the first people to take advantage of a free for all in education will be the religious; the fundie Xians, the Muslims, the Jehovahs and the Mormons et al. It will be the perfect opportunity for these people to isolate their offspring from divergent theologies and ideologies. Worse it will be a cover for them to deny an accurate scientific education and access to critical thinking skills.
Unfortunately the Conservative party is not sensitive to these risks any more than Labour’s Ed Balls is and if (as seems very possible) they get to be the next government and if they actually make their manifesto manifest, this is a pitfall that all sceptics, humanists and atheists need to make plain to them. I am expecting activists at the door shortly and it is a point I will making strongly when they do.
Don’t get me wrong, community power and individualism is in my view a good thing to promote, but we have to be mindful that not every community is benign. In the U.S where home education and private colleges have a long provenance, religious wing-nuttery finds refuge. We don’t want it here.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

New Scientist interviews Francisco Ayala

Geneticist and evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala has recently been awarded the $1,000,000 Templeton prize bribe for scientists willing to find accommodation for religion within science.
He has an interview in New Scientist this week that reveals a serious lack of critical thought where his theology meets his science.

Take this for example. At the top of the interview he says
I feel that science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God.
but then later adds…
Creationism and intelligent design are not compatible with religion because they imply the designer is a bad designer, allowing cruelty and misery. Evolution explains these as a result of natural processes, in the same way we explain earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. We don't have to attribute them to an action of God.
If not an action of an “omnipotent and benevolent God” then what? At best natural disasters become a gross error of omission, which still makes God culpable by any logic. If the universe is godless and careless, cruelty and misery make sense. If God exists he is either malevolent or stupid and definitely not benevolent.

Then there’s this obvious strawman.
At the same time, some scientists claim they can use science to prove God does not exist. Science can do nothing of the kind.
Notice the some scientists. I’d like to see the funding body that would bankroll research to prove the non-existence of God, (or fairies or lepracauns). Science 101 people! You cannot empirically prove such a negative and all scientists know this. Even the strongest of atheist materialists would not absolutely categorically rule out the existence of God. They merely proceed under the assumption that there isn’t one.

Finally here’s another cop out in the context of the accepted fact that homosexuality is genetically determined.
One has to distinguish what belongs to the realm of morality.
It may have been a point of moral debate among people who believed homosexuality to be a lifestyle choice. If your scripture of choice says it’s a sin you can with some justification hold that view all the time people are choosing their sexuality (as a liberal I would not agree, but it’s at least arguable). However we now know, and Ayala agrees that people do not choose to be gay, they just are gay. They are gay in the same way that some of us are black or are women or are differently-abled. Would Ayala have a problem distinguishing the morality of discriminating against these groups? What realm does he put white supremacists in I wonder?

His whole shtick is a postmodern “different ways of knowing” fudge of an argument that is not worthy of any scientist, least of all one of his standing. He coyly refuses to reveal his personal faith (although he clearly “believes in belief” as Daniel Dennett would say) and he seems to have bagged his million bucks with hackneyed apologetics and unquestioning accomodationism.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Tory M.P endorses gay discrimination.

Chris Grayling MP seems to think it’s acceptable for B&B owners to refuse rooms to same sex couples.
This is an outrageous and immoral view. His argument as stated in a secret recording is:
"I took the view that if it's a question of somebody who's doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn't come into their own home.
"If they are running a hotel on the High Street, I really don't think that it is right in this day and age that a gay couple should walk into a hotel and be turned away because they are a gay couple, and I think that is where the dividing line comes."
Which has all that “isn’t it reasonable” sound about it that actually doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It is no more acceptable to refuse B&B to gay couples than it is to refuse rooms to a Muslim or a Jew or a person of colour. It rests on the discredited assumption that homosexuality is some kind of debauched lifestyle choice, rather than a natural expression of sexuality for a sizeable minority of people. Christians and Muslims may sincerely believe that homosexuality is immoral, but they are wrong, and should not be allowed to discriminate on that errant belief. If they don’t want gay people in their homes they should be in another business.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

How could Rowan Williams get this more wrong?

Rowan Williams the current Archbishop of Canterbury voiced on a radio discussion the sentiment that all rational thinking people have felt since the Catholic Church’s cover up of paedophile priests has been exposed. He said:
"I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it's quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now.
"And an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society, suddenly becoming, suddenly losing all credibility - that's not just a problem for the Church, it is a problem for everybody in Ireland."
Well, maybe not everybody, because, even in a religious backwater like Ireland there exists a healthy community of atheists. But that aside his instinct is correct. The Catholic Church has lost all credibility, all right to moral authority (if it ever had it) and although it probably wasn’t the most diplomatic thing for the head of another Church to say, it was indisputably empirically correct.
But guess what? The wimp has now apologised. “Oops sorry, didn’t mean to offend” (shouldn’t have put that in quotes really, ‘cos that’s not actually what he said but he might as well have).
So where do the Anglicans stand now then? Maybe it is O.K with them that the biggest Christian faction in the world is a child abuser's refuge. Maybe it is more important that the peddlers of superstition stick together to defend these edifices of unreason lest their sick institutions finally fail.
To my mind the conspiracy just got wider. Sod the facts! Let religion prevail.