"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

Monday, 29 November 2010

Teenage girl in Qur'an burning

A 15 year old girl has been arrested on suspicion of inciting religious hatred for burning a copy of the Qur’an. Allegedly this was done to an English language version of the book at the girl's school and a video of the event posted on Facebook.
Now if this actually happened as described it was a stupid and pointless thing to do as it could only have been done with intent to insult Muslims. However, if the girl should be charged with anything it should be starting a fire on school property or vandalism, not “inciting religious hatred”. She is doing no such thing and to suggest otherwise is a violation of her right to free speech.
Non Muslims are not obliged to respect the Qur’an anymore than they are required to respect ...oh! Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. To everyone else it is just a book. If she bought it she can burn it if she wants to.
Catherine Heseltine, chief executive officer of the Muslim public affairs committee, said
burning the Qur'an was one of the most offensive acts to Muslims she could imagine.
Which shows a paucity of imagination in my opinion as I would rate say ethnic cleansing in Bosnia as far more offensive. However as I keep saying: No one has the right not to be offended. We cannot legislate for that, particularly as many special interest groups exist that could claim offense to almost anything.
So give the girl lines or a month of lunchtime detentions by all means, but don’t criminalise someone for expressing an opinion.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Well said Brenda! ...er Ma'am

Well I never! It’s almost enough to turn me into a royalist (I said almost). Seems The Queen believes that atheists are just as moral as believers
"In our more diverse and secular society, the place of religion has come to be a matter of lively discussion. It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue and that the wellbeing and prosperity of the nation depend on the contribution of individuals and groups of all faiths and none."
Not that atheists need telling that, it should be self evident to anyone. As “defender of the faith” and head of the Anglican Church I hope her Archbishop and clergy take note that that is the official line and stop equating good exclusively with faith.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Christians claim they are not "ashamed"

Here’s a strange thing. Christian Concern is launching a “Not Ashamed” campaign for Christmas along with a leaflet from former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.
The idea is that these people are not ashamed to follow Jesus and speak out about their belief. George Carey puts it this way
”I’m proud of the sense of fairness and fair play that runs throughout our nation. I am proud of our tradition of tolerance and our historic commitment to welcoming the stranger.
Yet what many people don’t realise is that it is the Christian Faith that underpins these great strengths and that has enriched our nation in so many other ways”
Well of course I would take issue with the “underpinning” part. I think we are all perfectly capable of fair play and tolerance without religion and probably more so. But let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and agree that the Anglican Church has some things it can be proud of.
However the thing I find bizarre about this campaign is the implicit assumption that somewhere in their theist subconscious they suspect that there is something to be ashamed of. Let’s face it; I would never feel the need to say I’m not ashamed to be an atheist. Why would I? I’m the one with a rational evidenced based worldview. But obviously, for Christian Concern the cognitive dissonance is beginning to bite. Perhaps it’s dawned on them that believing in magic sky fairies is something that a grown adult should feel ashamed of.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Why doesn't this surprise me?

The BBC investigative programme Panorama has discovered that Muslim run weekend schools are teaching anti-Semitic and homophobic material from a Saudi text book. The schools teach the Saudi National Curriculum and are run under the name of “Saudi Students Clubs and Schools” in the UK. Due to a technicality they are exempt from full Ofsted oversight.
The material, which is being taught to 15 year olds, includes Sharia punishments for acts of sodomy for which children are told that the penalty is death and it states a difference of opinion whether this should be done by stoning, or burning with fire, or throwing over a cliff.
The books also teaches about the ”Protocols of the Elders of Zion” a demonstrably fraudulent text purporting to show a Jewish conspiracy to control the world.
Coalition education secretary Micheal Gove told the programme
“I have no desire or wish to intervene in the decisions that the Saudi government makes in its own education system. But I’m clear that we cannot have anti-Semitic material of any kind being used in English schools. Ofsted are doing some work in this area. They’ll be reporting to me shortly about how we can ensure that part-time provision is better registered and better inspected in the future.”
It is a shame that Mr Gove should equivocate with the Saudi government so blatantly but at least he recognises it is inappropriate for anyone to teach this material here.
We should be clear that we will not allow Islamic intolerance and paranoia to be imported into our society under cover of faith schools. Any institution that purports to teach children in this country, regardless of ethnic origin should have to undergo full scrutiny of Ofsted and be made to adopt a balanced approach. It may be fair enough to teach that the Qu’ran demands the death penalty in respect of homosexual acts, because it does: It is a regrettable and reprehensible fact. It is not acceptable to teach that it is morally correct in the context of a modern liberal democracy however.
It behoves us to be suspicious of the motives of any faith school, whether Muslim, Christian, Hindu or whatever. The temptation for them to teach repressive dogma and intolerance will be overwhelming and in many with a fundamentalist bent it will be inevitable.
Hopefully the government will learn the lesson from this and make sure that any of the recently proposed free schools that are set up with a religious “ethos” are not allowed to promulgate similar ideas amongst our youth.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

UK Libel reform

Reposting this from Pharyngula. A message from Simon Singh
This week is the first anniversary of the report Free Speech is Not for Sale, which highlighted the oppressive nature of English libel law. In short, the law is extremely hostile to writers, while being unreasonably friendly towards powerful corporations and individuals who want to silence critics.

The English libel law is particular dangerous for bloggers, who are generally not backed by publishers, and who can end up being sued in London regardless of where the blog was posted. The internet allows bloggers to reach a global audience, but it also allows the High Court in London to have a global reach.

You can read more about the peculiar and grossly unfair nature of English libel law at the website of the Libel Reform Campaign. You will see that the campaign is not calling for the removal of libel law, but for a libel law that is fair and which would allow writers a reasonable opportunity to express their opinion and then defend it.

The good news is that the British Government has made a commitment to draft a bill that will reform libel, but it is essential that bloggers and their readers send a strong signal to politicians so that they follow through on this promise. You can do this by joining me and over 50,000 others who have signed the libel reform petition at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Remember, you can sign the petition whatever your nationality and wherever you live. Indeed, signatories from overseas remind British politicians that the English libel law is out of step with the rest of the free world.

If you have already signed the petition, then please encourage friends, family and colleagues to sign up. Moreover, if you have your own blog, you can join hundreds of other bloggers by posting this blog on your own site. There is a real chance that bloggers could help change the most censorious libel law in the democratic world.

We must speak out to defend free speech. Please sign the petition for libel reform at http://www.libelreform.org/sign

Monday, 8 November 2010

The grass is greener. Really?

It seems that some conservative Anglican Bishops are defecting to Rome. Not that I care particularly, it’s still an over blown sinecure telling fairy tales whoever the boss is. However I do find it telling that these people are leaving a Church because it wants to ordain women and gays, for a Church that protects paedophiles.
There really is no explaining where some people’s priorities lie.

Friday, 5 November 2010

California: Proposition 19 on marijuana falls

Lost in amongst the disappointing but predictable U.S midterm election results, was the similarly predictable and disappointing defeat of proposition19 in California. This bold attempt at reform of the marijuana laws in the state would have seen the drug legalised and regulated, recognising that prohibition of recreational substances not only fails to restrict consumption but fuels violent and organised crime both within the state and across the border in Mexico.
Had this proposition passed and been successfully implemented it would certainly have paved the way for adoption by other U.S states and possibly even other western democracies.
The No On Proposition 19 campaign was little more than scare-mongering and failed to address the issues, but obviously appealed to older conservative Californians sufficiently to deny the measure a majority.

All is not lost however. For one thing, the fact that this proposition was put before the states electorate at all means that the call for a rational, evidence based drug policy that recognises the failure of the prohibition approach is now part of mainstream discourse. It will re-emerge in California and should no longer be seen as a radical and irresponsible concept. For another, the 18 – 35 demographic voted largely in favour with 64% voting yes [source] which bodes well for future attempts.
One word of caution though, because this measure is limited to marijuana, even if it passed there is a danger that the full benefits in crime reduction would not be seen. Drug runners rarely deal in one substance and would doubtless continue to operate in harder drugs. Also much of the collateral damage caused by drug use is due to poor formulation or deliberate “cutting” of synthetic drugs with cheaper (often toxic) substances to improve margins. So whilst I would support any movement towards drug legalisation and regulation, I would not make too many claims for the benefit of legalising marijuana alone. What it could prove however is that there are few if any negative social consequences to the legalisation of recreational drugs and if it could work in just one state in the U.S it could work anywhere.