"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, 20 January 2011

Islam, bigotry and the Baroness

Baroness Warsi, Conservative party chairman and the first Muslim to be appointed to a British cabinet post, will today claim that “prejudice against Muslims has become widespread and socially acceptable in Britain”.
She believes that classifying Muslims as “Moderate” or “ Extremist” fuels misunderstanding and intolerance.
"It's not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of 'moderate' Muslims leads; in the factory, where they've just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: 'Not to worry, he's only fairly Muslim',"
There is a problem with this line of reasoning; although I don’t doubt that Islamophobia is prevalent in the west we have good reason to be wary. Recent experience with Islamist extremists, suicide bombers in London and constant reports of Islamic terrorism worldwide is evidence that a significant minority of Muslims are a threat to secular democracy and our peace and security. Although the Baroness will also urge Muslim communities to reject those who do resort to violent acts, saying...
"Those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law. They also should face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims."
...this is not a pattern of behaviour we have come to expect.
Now don’t think I’m arguing for bigotry and discrimination against Muslims, I definitely am not, but the danger of taking Baroness Warsi at face value is that we shut down legitimate discourse and criticism of belief structures that are, frankly, incompatible with secular liberal democratic values. She is also reported as blaming
“the patronising, superficial way faith is discussed in certain quarters, including the media”.
Which sounds perilously close to saying that religion should be beyond criticism and ridicule.
One thing should be made clear to the Baroness. Islam is a belief system, a worldview that unlike sex, race or gender orientation is a “lifestyle choice”. Nobody is born Muslim, even if brought up in a Muslim culture a rational adult can choose not to believe in Allah or revere the prophet, especially when they live in as diverse and multicultural a society as ours. That being the case Islam is and must remain fair game for the full gamut of social discourse, no matter how robust or offensive its adherents find it. This is not predjudice; the same freedoms apply to political opinions, other religions and moral views all of which have to compete in the “marketplace of ideas” and occasionally suffer in consequence.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Gay couple win B&B room ban case

Here’s a bit of cheering news. A gay couple refused a double room in a Penzance B&B, have won their discrimination case.
Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy had booked the room in September of 2008, but were prevented from using it by the B&B’s owners Peter and Hazelmary Bull.
A Christian couple, the Bulls defence was that their
double-bed policy was based on our sincere beliefs about marriage
However Judge Rutherford said that, in the past fifty years, social attitudes in Britain had changed and it was inevitable that laws would "cut across" some people's beliefs.
Social attitudes notwithstanding, civil partnership is supposed to be legally equivalent to marriage, which makes the Bull’s actions clearly discriminatory. Although they did not believe "unmarried couples" should share a room the Bulls were in fact failing to recognise the status of Hall and Preddy’s civil partnership.
Interestingly we have no evidence that the Bulls were in the habit of rejecting unmarried heterosexual couples, which is a shame because if they weren’t it would be very telling.
The Judge has given leave for appeal so this story may run for a bit yet, but predictably there are some Christians who are missing the point of this very sound judgement. This from Mike Judge of the Christian Institute
Peter and Hazelmary were sued with the full backing of the government-funded Equality Commission. Christians are being sidelined.
Sidelined? Really? If he means they are being prevented from ignoring anti-discrimination law just because it contradicts their homophobic beliefs then yes, let’s have them sidelined. There are laws in this country which violate my principles too, that doesn’t mean I can escape justice if I am caught breaking them, and neither should it.

Friday, 14 January 2011

One Year Blogiversary

Just in case there are enough of you reading this stuff to care. I just completed my first year of blogging as Atheist MC. Shame I'm off the booze this month, it's worth one drink at least to celebrate.

Papal "miracle" will make John Paul II a saint

Now I suppose I shouldn’t care. If Ratzinger wants to make his predecessor a saint, then good luck to him.
But the pretext for doing so is laughable. Apparently a Nun, allegedly suffering from Parkinsons disease prayed to the deceased John Paul II and was cured.
This “miracle” cure was verified by church appointed doctors. That presumably is because no independent self-respecting doctor would commit to endorsing such a thing. But in any event it seems the circumstances are not quite so clear-cut.
last year there were some doubts about the validity of the miracle. A Polish newspaper said that a doctor who scrutinised the nun's case had concluded that she might have been suffering not from Parkinson's, but from a nervous disorder from which temporary recovery is medically possible.
Which seems a more plausible explanation.
Now John Paul was a likeable bloke; more than you can say for the current pontiff and if the Catholic Church want to bestow it’s highest but ultimately meaningless honour upon him that’s their decision. It would in fact be more of an accolade if they were to celebrate his actual achievements in life rather than imaginary ones in death, but that’s magical thinking for you.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Wakefield's MMR study is a fraud

Dr Andrew Wakefield, the researcher responsible for the alleged link between MMR vaccine and autism has now been accused by the BMJ of deliberately falsifying data to back up his claims. They have reviewed the transcript of the General Medical Council hearings and compared them with the original research paper in the Lancet and the findings of investigative journalist Brian Deer
The latest findings suggest that Wakefield knowingly lied about the medical histories and subsequent symptoms of the twelve children examined for his study. In particular…
– only one child clearly had regressive autism and three did not have autism at all
– five children had concerns recorded about their development on their records predating MMR vaccination
– claims that the symptoms appeared days after vaccination were found to be wrong and in some cases these started months later.
– nine children had normal test results from their bowel but this was changed to 'non-specific colitis'
– some patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners and the study was commissioned and funded as part of planned litigation against the jab's manufacturer.

Wakefield has already been struck off the medical register in the U.K but he continues to protest his innocence and the truth of his claims from his new base in America where he also enjoys support from autism groups.
It cannot be emphasised enough: Study after study, including worldwide meta-analysis of all the data available for MMR has totally failed to find a link between the vaccine and autism. There has been a consequential rise in measles infections ever since poorly informed parents withheld vaccination from their children under the mistaken impression that they were being prudent or cautious and we are still not back to vaccination rates that ensure herd immunity. Measles in particular is not a trivial disease and complications can occur fairly frequently including bronchitis, and panencephalitis which is potentially fatal.
I’d like to think today’s revelations will finally end this fabricated controversy, but I’m not optimistic. The lack of critical thinking among the general population and the willingness of the press to give equal weight to the anti-vaccination lobby , evidence be damned, will probably keep it rumbling on.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Muslims celebrate Taseer assassination

If anyone harbours any doubts that Islam is not a moderate or peaceful religion, the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer should dispel them.
Taseer was shot by his bodyguard, Malik Mumtaz Hussein Qadri, because of his defence of a Christian woman recently sentenced to death for blasphemy. An out spoken liberal in a far from liberal country Taseer was a strong voice for tolerance and reason in the region and in consequence had angered many Muslims.Make no mistake, even if this assassination were the act of a lone extremist, the response from the Muslim community has been anything but encouraging. The “moderate” Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims have warned that anyone who expresses grief over the assassination could suffer the same fate, saying.
"No Muslim should attend the funeral or even try to pray for Salman Taseer or even express any kind of regret or sympathy over the incident."
Only religion, could find justification in that kind of logic. Political assassinations are a feature of many societies and particularly in emerging democracies, still steeped in tribalism. But Islam’s western apologists should take note of the Muslim reaction to this killing and learn from it. Islam does not share the values of western secular society; it is repressive and regressive and will, in my opinion, never represent a force for reconciliation in the world.
In seeking political solutions in Pakistan and Afghanistan we should emphasise secularism and not attempt to accommodate religion in any form other than as a private right. Islam is not an honest broker or a willing partner in the region and probably never will be.

Qadri appeared in court, unrepentant, where waiting lawyers threw handfuls of rose petals over him and others in the crowd slapped his back and kissed his cheek as he was led in and out amid heavy security.[source]