Sunday, 28 November 2010

Some interesting quotes from a recent NSS newsletter...

"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."
(Queen Elizabeth II, opening the Church of England synod)

Hear, hear!

"Religious leaders should concentrate on the big things: social and personal morality, spirituality, charity, kindness, condemning what is dishonest or cruel. Their remit should not include interfering between good, loving couples in their bedrooms."
(Libby Purves, The Times)

And so say most of us...

Mike Behe and Michael Reiss debate ID

This link is to the audio recording on Premier Christian Radio. I was curious to know if Mike Behe would say anything new on his recent UK tour. 
In this respect I found the debate beyween Mike Behe and Michael Reiss in Scotland this week particularly enlightening.  I have to say that after hearing it I was even less impressed by the argument for I.D. than I was beforehand.  Ironically this was in large part because he was debating not with a secularist, but with a very sincere Christian.  Thus the 'well he would say that wouldn't he' type defence would not work. 

In fact Michael Reiss makes a very good case for there being no need to even go down the I.D. road, for belief in God as the creator does not require this kind of limited view.  To me the whole I.D. idea seems to be counter-productive - particularly as many 'prrofs' have been proven over and over to be fundamentally flawed.  Conversely the supposed arguments against Evolution can so easily be refuted.

I do hope for the future health of the Christian religion that this gimmicky I.D. idea gets consigned to history sooner rather than later.  It's a silly notion that may sell books and make some people feel good about themselves, but ultimately just takes many gullible people down a dead end.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Ok, so God did it - but which God?

So often one seems to come across debates between a non believer on one side, and a believer in the dominant God of that particular culture, on the other side.  The alternatives frequently appear to be 'No God' or 'This God'.

But isn't that missing out a vital step?  If I'm to believe that the the natural Universe was indeed created by a deity, how can I be sure that it was, for example, the Christian deity rather than the God of a number of other competing religions?

To be honest, the fact that there are many so many people who equally fervently believe that 'their' God is the true God, leaves me wondering how many people of the hghest integrity must, by definition, be utterly deluded.  Pity those poor wretches who may devote their whole life to their chosen religion, and maybe even die for it, when their belief is nothing but a delusion.

How can one tell who is deluded?  There are no proofs or logical explanations for any of these competing deities, and much of the 'evidence' would not last 5 minutes if subjected to impartial scientific scrutiny...

I remain perplexed by people's wholly illogical behaviour.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Hatch, Match and Despatch

Yesterday evening I attended a meeting of the Central London Humanists.  The event was a talk by a long serving Humanist 'Celebrant'.  It was particularly appropriate timing for me, in the light of a recent discussion on a Christian blog.  The author of the blog wrote about Remembrance Sunday, and how uplifting he found the whole thing.  He ended his post with the following:-

"All of sudden I felt pity for those who would desire the removal of Christianity from such occasions and who would exclude themselves from this type of collective worship.  I cannot conceive how a community could even begin to mark such an occasion without the Church, and of course God Himself.  For me, it was the revelation that humanists, secularists, and atheists might never understand or appreciate the essentiality of Christianity and the wonderful meaning this brings to such occasions."

I'm sure it was not intended, but several commenters found this hugely patronising to Humanists, and betrayed a complete lack of understanding.  It's been my experience that most religious people think they know exactly what a Humanist is and is not, and depressingly often they are wrong.  Such complaints as "without God anything is permissible" are not only misguided, but frankly insulting.

I will try to get a copy of the transcript of the speakers notes from yesterday evening.  It was abundantly clear from the anecdotes he revealed, that Humanist ceremonies are at least as emotive and meaningful as their religious equivalents.  Indeed I would suggest they are almost invariably more so, as those most directly affected get to discuss with the celebrant exactly how they would like the ceremony to be conducted.  This results in a very personal and ultimately deeply satisfying experience.

One of the problems we have is terminology.  For instance 'Celebrant' is a rather awkward title, as is 'Officiant' which it replaced.  One can't use the term 'Minister', or 'Chaplain'.  Maybe we need another new word for this and many other terms?

Humanist ceremonies are not legally binding in England, though they are other parts of the UK, particularly in Scotland.  Hence there is still a reliance on Registrars for the appropriate legal documentation. There is a campaign under way now to bring England into line with the rest of the UK, and have the same legal status as the Church regarding these ceremonies.  Watch this space!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Science vs. Religion - 'Kay's view

I came across this comment on a fundamentalist religious apologist's site.  It's quite succinct and to the point so I thought I'd quote it for future reference

"For milennia, religion provided many of the answers to life's mysteries, like what caused disease, why there were disasters, why there is suffering, and even the age of the planet. It was accepted that suffering meant punishment by the gods, natural disasters were the products of their anger, and within the Judeo-christian domain, the planet was less than 10,000 years old. Before writing was developed, legends were recounted by word-of-mouth down the ages in every civilization, providing dramatic explanations for the many mysteries of life, and also solace in the face of the most worrisome mystery of all: death.
Throughout his development, man has feared nature, because he had no control over it. Storms came and took lives. Earthquakes came, mountain peaks blew their top and vomited liquid fire down its sides and belched ash several hundred feet in the sky. It seemed like somebody was angry, because people kept dying in these disasters, so much blood was shed. Man noticed that the invisible powers, or whoever it was that caused the earth to open. the winds to throw giant trees to the ground and the sea to become a wall of water that took wives, husbands, children, mothers and fathers away, those invisible powers had to be respected, or else you could die in the next disaster. "Look how much blood it took, look how many dead were buried after that last volcano." "Perhaps the invisible powers need blood every now and then", thought man, so in order to avert another disaster, man took the initiative of shedding the blood himself and delivering it to the powers.

Thus the notion of blood sacrifice was born:

"Invisible powers, if we bring you blood, will you spare us another disaster?"

Of course because some volcanoes erupted only once in a lifetime, some communities may have believed the blood sacrifices were effective when they saw no recurrence of the eruption or the trembling of the ground. Superstition then gave way to orgaized religions in communities everywhere, hence the plurality of faiths.

Primitive man did not know about microbes and what caused disease. It was a mystery when one of his clan vomited and died, or just didn't wake up from sleep. When a woman died in childbirth or gave birth to a stillborn. He didn't know that his teeth were so close to his brain that the bacteria from their decay could quickly travel to his bloodstream into his brain and his heart. Medical science has now linked dental caries to heart disease.

Man was baffled about death for it was the common fate shared by all, and when we have no facts or suitable explanations, you know what we do: we develop a conspiracy theory.

Legends were handed down in many civilizations, that fires raged beneath the earth that would sometimes open and swallow many, so the legend of hell began, for man had to link that to his notion of appeasing the powers, hence a system of punishment and reward...and if everything evil was beneath the earth, to find a place from whence blessings came was easy. The sky. From the sky came the sun which provided warmth and light. From the sky came the rain that brought precious water, which man found he could not live without. So man looked to the sky or the benevolence of the invisible powers and to the earth beneath for their fury. The powers could also light up the skies at midnight, when it seemed they were angry, because the rumbling sounded like the roars of a thousand lions. Man thought he could hear the voice of the gods in the thunder. Soon he began to think he could interpret the voices

So guess what? Man named a god for each aspect or item of nature, just so he wouldn't have to offend any o the powers. And he worked out a system to appease those gods, bow to them, pray to them, bring flowers, the best animals, virgins, babies -- the gods could have anything they wanted. Just spare us the horrific disaster. Just spare us the final death.
But after so many years of giving the gods blood, people still died, and man could not accept a reality of not seeing his loved ones again, so ideas of the afterlife came to the fore. What happens after we die, he thought.

Science now provides many answers for microbes and disease; we now understand about bacteria, viruses and the mutation of singular-celled organisms; we know exactly what causes thunder and lightning, and we know that we live on a planet that is constantly trying to cool itself, shifting its outer crust to relieve built-up pressure in the core. We know that the closer you get to the center of the earth the hotter the furnace burns, and we know why a mountain ejects ash into the air and liquid rock chases people and animals down the mountainsides and swallows up whole villages below.

We know now that the natural disasters are not the result of some angry god; we know that a female's monthly emissions are not the result of a curse, and that there was no reason for her to bring sacrifices to any priest as was necessary under Mosaic law. We know virgins do not all respond the same at their first sexual experience, so stoning a young bride to death if there was no evidence she was a virgin on her wedding night, was sheer ignorance.

Science now knows about continental drift, the continents moving apart over the ages, even more so with the many tectonic shifts occuring every hour. Science has also worked out the passage of time by studying geological deposits, layers of rock of varying types, and by carbon dating.

We know the world is not 6,000 years old and woman was not made from a man's rib. Few of us now read the creation story and take it literally as mankind drifts into the Age of Skepticism. In 2025 the US military, it is said, will control the weather, and we expect breakthroughs in science regarding the human genome and our DNA -- controlling what is passed down in our genes from our forebears, thus genetically engineering the species. Whether you wish to believe it or not, these are the current trends. Science has demystified nature.

The only mystery that science has no answers for is "what happens when we die?" -- a mystery that religion claims to answer, based on faith, of course. But what is faith based on?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Handmaid's Tale

Could I suggest that anyone who longs for a utopian Christian State inspired by the Bible should read Margaret Atwood’s: “The Handmaid’s Tale”, or at least look up its Wikipedia entry at:‘s_Tale

I came across it some years ago and was reminded of it on the radio today.  The story tells of a dystopian society of the future, based on rigorous adherence to the Bible, as told in the diaries of a woman who can remember the time before the new regime.  As so often happens when power is vested in a certain part of society, who are able to enforce their supremacy, the good intentions degenerate into a repressive and unequal society.  Quite chilling.  When it was written in 1985 I suspect people would not have believed just how parts of society had developed by the early 21st century. It's perhaps a salutary warning of what could happen without healthy dissent.  Echoes of current fundametnalist sects of many varieties, both in the developed and developing World.

A BBC World "Book Club" discussion with the author can be found at:
(scan down to Margaret Atwood).  Well worth a listen for more insight into the author's inspiration and intentions with this book.

Read the book if you can!

Monday, 8 November 2010

Religion and Conquest

Why are large parts of South America Catholic?  Why are large parts of the Mddle East Muslim?  Answer:  Conquest.  It seems that in many parts of the World, your religion is most likely to be that of the last conqueror of your country.  How arbitrary!!

Thursday, 4 November 2010

"John Hirst defends votes for murderers, rapists, paedophiles... "

Over at:
Cranmer bemoans the fact that prisoners are to be allowed to vote.  The commenters universally share his views and the righteous indignation is palpable.  I suppose we should expect nothing less of an avowedly right wing blog, but it saddens me that people should be so narrow minded.  I added a comment in support of the proposal to give prisoners the vote.  I won't hold my breath for a response!

Text of my comment::
Perhaps I am a lone voice amongst your acolites, but I have to say that I agree with extending the right to vote to those in jail. This surely continues the trend of removing restrictions on universal suffrage. It was not so long ago that women did not have the right to vote. Who are we to declare someone unfit to vote because they have committed a crime? Where to next? No votes for those who are unemployed for over 6 months? No votes for those who cannot read or write? All these are part of our society and surely entitled to have a say in how things are run.

Furthermore, prison is not just about punishment. It is about rehabilitation, and trying to change the habits of recalcitrant offenders. By excluding them from the democratic process we encourage them to think that society is "someone else's problem". If we want criminals to have a social conscience we need to encourage them to feel a part of society.

Give them the vote say I!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Always Hope: NSS gets in a tizzy again

Always Hope: NSS gets in a tizzy again

Saw this post and kicked myself for not realising it before.  Charlie has nailed why the NSS struggles to build its membership.  Any organisation that is so focussed on the negative is going to struggle!
Ironic that it took a Christian to produce this emperor's new clothes moment!

Catholics and Natural Law

What is "Natural Law"?  Look it up in Wikipedia and you would be forgiven for believing that it can mean almost whatever the user wants it to mean. 

Catholics appear to define natural law as the rule of conduct which is prescribed to mankind by the Creator in the constitution of the nature with which He has endowed mankind.  Recently I've come across the expression several times in discussion with Catholics, who declare it as a kind of self-evident trump card.  As in "homosexuality is wrong - It's against natural law".  When looking natural law up at a website calling itself "Catholic Encyclopedia" I was surprised to be given as an example of natural law that in certain circumstances Polygamy can be lawful but that polyandry can never be lawful, presumably because of something written by a misogynist in the Old Testament.

I find myself wondering how laws which to a modern reader often appear bizarre, and are prescribed by a supernatural being, can possibly warrant the title of "natural".  Moreover, not even Catholic scholars through the ages can agree on the detail. Is it perhaps time to drop this rather unhelpful expression?