"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, 31 August 2010

Blair against "those who scorn God"

Tony Blair the former British Prime Minister who famously “didn’t do God”when he was in office has called upon all faiths to rally together against secular attacks from “those who scorn God”.
Those who scorn God and those who do violence in God’s name, both represent views of religion. But both offer no hope for faith in the twenty first century.”
Well he’s right of course, neither religious fundamentalism nor atheism offer hope for faith in the 21st century. However secularism does offer hope for peace, humanity and civilisation in this century which religion in any guise cannot.
The myth that world ecumenicalism will prevent the spread of religious extremism is a recurring one but which history shows is very unlikely to translate into reality. Maybe Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews and Hindus will unite against a common enemy. But only for as long as their competing faiths can stand it. Then it will be back to the tribalism, the terror and the bombs.
I have no idea how such an obviously well travelled, sophisticated and intelligent man like Blair can be taken in by this nonsense. The very fact that he has converted to Catholicism at a time when that particular cult has fallen into such disrepute shows a distinct lack of critical thinking from the man who lead the country into war alongside G.W Bush, that other famously religion deluded leader.

Monday, 23 August 2010

On Naming Ceremonies

Frank Field Is a labour politician who has been appointed as an advisor on poverty to the new coalition government. One of the suggestions that he has come up with is the creation of secular naming ceremonies for newborns in response to the decline in Christenings and Baptisms.
This is a surprising suggestion coming as it does from a practicing Anglican, but in my view a welcome one.
His view is that ceremonies of this nature, being a secular rite of passage would help to highlight the responsibility of the parents, wider family and the local community towards the collective upbringing of our children and I think there is some merit in this.
Like the other significant milestones such as marriage and death, birth, or more accurately the welcoming of a newborn has for too long been in the province of religion. As a state we have recognised civil marriages for many years and they now take place outside of the sterile environment of the registry office. Crematoriums at any rate can host humanist funerals (although escaping Christian symbolism is still difficult). Non-religious naming ceremonies however when they happen are ad-hoc arrangements by parents who already feel motivated to introduce their child formally in this way.
Providing a structured secular ceremony accessible via registrars could well motivate other parents to do this
Many parents who are not religious, but who may not think deeply about these things will currently opt for a Christian ceremony anyway or more likely ignore the ritual altogether. It would not necessarily occur to them that organisations such as the British Humanist Association already have a great deal of experience in Naming Ceremonies hosted in hotels or other venues that can help cement a new child’s arrival into family and community.
Humanists and religious groups together could come up with a secular framework for all naming ceremonies that would become part of our society’s common ritual. Then, as with weddings, the participants would embellish the ceremony to conform to their own beliefs.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Mecca has a bigger one than London - so there!

I love this…
I was alerted to this silly story of the giant clock in Mecca by Pharyngula.
The Saudi government is challenging Greenwich Mean Time as the reference point for global time by building a clock that is over six times larger than Big Ben, the clock in the tower at the Palace of Westminster in London.
First of all Big Ben has absolutely nothing to do with the establishment of Greenwich observatory as the base line from which time is internationally agreed. This was done order for sailors to calculate longitude from the Greenwich meridian, which was by convention considered to have longitude zero degrees as internationally adopted at the International Meridian Conference of 1884. I don’t think anyone is going to relocate zero longitude at Mecca just because it’s got a big clock.
Secondly inhabitants of any particular part of the world don’t go around saying “It’s five O’Clock, so it must be two O’Clock in London” anymore than Arabic Standard Time is of interest to anyone else but an inhabitant of that time zone, or someone who wants to go or ‘phone there.
If the Saudis want to flaunt their oil wealth by building a gaudy clock to time their prayers by, that’s fine. But why turn it into a symbol of supposed Islamic supremacy by pitching it as a rival to Big Ben? Some kind of penis envy I guess. Whatever, Mecca isn’t the centre of the world anymore than London, Paris, New York or Chipping Sodbury is. We live on a (oblate) sphere whether the Saudis like it or not.
The other thing is, what are they going to set the clock by I wonder? Logically they will set it to AST which is defined as GMT+ 3 Hours. Duh!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

NHS will still fund "nonsense on stilts"

Just when you think reason is about to prevail some idiot in Government decides that uneducated public opinion has more weight than science when it comes to NHS funding.
Despite a damning report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee that said homeopathy was no better than a sugar pill placebo and was "nonsense on stilts", Health minister Anne Milton has decided it will not be banned on the NHS.
This goes beyond the issue of the £4M or so that goes towards supporting a totally non-effective treatment. It is giving credibility to a whole industry of superstitious woo and mumbo jumbo that in some instances causes real harm. Faith healing, crystals, shamanism and homeopathy do not work and governments should not be endorsing them, either explicitly or by implication.