"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

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Proselytising Doctors

The Telegraph has highlighted this story of a doctor censured by the general medical council for discussing faith with his patients.
Dr Richard Scott is part of a practice called the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent – a practice well-known for having Christian partners - and has been threatened with an Official Warning by the GMC and is currently under investigation following a complaint by the parent of young patient.
In 2010, Dr Scott saw a patient on the practice list at the request of the patient’s mother. At the end of the consultation, the patient and doctor discussed religion, each being of different faiths. The patient has continued to seek treatment from the practice, but his mother filed an official complaint, claiming that the GP had not offered medical advice during a consultation, but instead, talked about Jesus! [source]
Apparently Dr Scott claims he only did so after a lengthy medical consultation and that no objection was made at the time.
Actual facts about this seem to be scarce. It is clear that the Bethesda practice is overtly christian in nature and perhaps someone not of that faith should choose a different practice if they do not want to be exposed to it. However, most people in this country would normally expect a medical professional to confine their advice to the domain in which they were consulted i.e medicine and keep their religion to themselves. If a practice wants to style itself on christian lines, perhaps to demonstrate faith as a motivation to public good, I suppose that's fine, but it should not be seen as an invitation to evangelise. Also the suggestion that the parent did not complain at the time is hardly surprising. Most people are polite and naturally deferential to doctors who are among the most respected professionals in the country, so while someone like me might well call them out on such an unwarranted intrusion into non-medical areas, a mother accompanying a child may well wait until later to complain.
On the available evidence I cannot decide whether the GMC are over reacting to this event or not. If this is the first time such a complaint has been made, I would take the view that sullying the personal record of a doctor with twenty-eight years unblemished service is probably harsh and unnecessary. Also, I would hope that the good doctor has learnt that such transgressions of professional boundaries are inappropriate and avoid them in future.
Beyond that, personally I would call the matter closed, except to say that attempts by the Telegraph and Christian Concern to frame this as evidence of persecution of christians is absurd and unhelpful. Christians and indeed all faiths are at complete liberty to ply their wares, set out their stalls and attract the "rubes" to their own peculiar and contradictory brands of irrationality without restriction. But, as consumers of professional services, be it medicine or any other, nobody should expect religion to be offered as part of the package if they didn't buy into it at the outset.

the description of the Bethesda Medical Centre on the NHS website is rather extraordinary (bold emphasis added):


Bethesda was a place in Bible where Christ healed a lame man and means literally 'house of mercy'
The 6 Partners are all practising Christians from a variety of Churches and their faith guides the way in which they view their work and responsibilities to the patients and employees. The Partners feel that the offer of talking to you on spiritual matters is of great benefit. If you do not wish this, that is your right and will not affect your medical care. Please tell the doctor (or drop a note to the Practice Manager) if you do not wish to speak on matters of faith.

"So it seems faith is something patients must opt out of at that surgery." [Source]

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

I like this joke

I've always liked Emo Phillips but you don't hear much from him these days. Anyway commenter "democommie" over at Despatches From the Culture Wars posted this and I thought I'd share...
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said "Stop! don't do it!" "Why shouldn't I?" he said. I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!" He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well...are you religious or atheist?" He said, "Religious." I said, "Me too! Are you christian or buddhist?" He said, "Christian." I said, "Me too! Are you catholic or protestant?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me too! Are you episcopalian or baptist?" He said, "Baptist!" I said,"Wow! Me too! Are you baptist church of god or baptist church of the lord?" He said, "Baptist church of god!" I said, "Me too! Are you original baptist church of god, or are you reformed baptist church of god?" He said,"Reformed Baptist church of god!" I said, "Me too! Are you reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1879, or reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915?" He said, "Reformed baptist church of god, reformation of 1915!" I said, "Die, heretic scum", and pushed him off.

Emo Phillips

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Bin Laden: Thoughts on conspiracy and jubilance

Ever since the news broke that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by a U.S task force in his Pakistani compound, almost everyone I’ve talked to has suggested that the American government might be making it up.
The desire to see conspiracy theories in practically everything to do with 9/11 is, to my mind, totally bizarre and the credibility of such theories close to zero.
For a start, what possible benefit is there to lying about killing Bin Laden? The only possible one I can think of (that they might just get away with) is that they actually have him in custody, but don’t want Al Qaeda to know. In which case they’ll pump him for whatever they can get then kill him and bury him at sea. But it’s hard not to suppose that Obama could resist the propaganda win of actually having Bin Laden stand trial.
But anyway, that’s not what is being claimed. People are saying it’s a stunt to restore Obama’s popularity, or to cover for death by natural causes but that’s not credible as Al Qaeda could expose either in a heartbeat. Sorry people, but sometimes the world is exactly as it appears to be.

So accepting the fact that he is dead, does it really do the American people any justice to be seen dancing in the streets with jubilation?
In my opinion no, nor is it seemly for their politicians or ours to be claiming a moral win for assassinating an individual on someone else’s sovereign territory. Incidentally, assassination is probably the correct word here, because it seems that the operation was mounted with no intent to apprehend him, only kill.
For one thing, to his ultra-Islamist followers, we have just delivered a martyr. They believe he is in paradise right now. For another, in reality death is no punishment for Bin Laden, as he no longer exists (not even in paradise), so we have denied the world an opportunity to actually make him pay for his crimes. I know, I know… to the Christian right he is suffering that punishment in the fires of hell, but we have no more reason to believe that, than that he’s getting started on his first couple of dozen virgins. If we want people punished we should use due process and the international courts. That’s how we maintain the moral high ground and advance democracy and the rule of law, not by deploying hit squads.

I’m not saying that the world is not a different and potentially safer place by killing Osama Bin Laden it’s just that celebrating the death of anyone, no matter how dangerous to society, seems wrong.
We can be pleased, that for now, the game has tipped in our favour. We can accept that our all too human desire for vengeance had been temporarily appeased. But celebrating in the streets at the death of Bin Laden makes us no better than the Muslims that celebrated the assassination of Salman Taseer
Presumably given his extensive family there will be people who loved Osama Bin Laden as a son, a brother or a father. They will not be celebrating.