January 2009

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The BBC Radio 4 “Today” programme had a “news” item featuring Benedictine monk Dom Anthony Sutch explaining how you deal with ghostly manifestations.  In this case, it concerns a ghost apparently haunting a hospital in Derby.  Bizarrely, considering how many people must die in hospitals (after all, quite a few patients will be seriously ill, and presumably people caught up in accidents will be taken to A&E), this is thought to be the ghost of a Roman soldier annoyed because they built said hospital on an old Roman road.  Sutch (who presumably is unrelated to the late Screaming Lord Sutch) came across as a likeable old chap, though sadly rather deluded by the supernatural as revealed by some dusty old tome.

Still, it was an amusing little “news” item.  You can hear the audio here (for as long as the BBC keep it available), and an interpretive transcript at Platitude of the Day,  where it’s been rated 5/5 (Extremely Platitudinous).  They are very polite on “Today” – this seemed to me to be a story played entirely for laughs, and Sutch was so earnest.

But what a mad world we live in, where a Hospital Manager has to take reports of hauntings seriously.

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Just the other day, the Pope welcomed back a group of dissident bishops (apparently some breakaway bunch known as SSPX – Damian Thompson seems quite exercised about it over at Holy Smoke) back to the fold of the Catholic Church.  The big fuss is being made because of the ghastly views of one of these bishops, Richard Williamson.  Here’s a recent video from YouTube.

I suppose if you’re capable of denying reality in favour of bearded sky dudes and other superstitious nonsense, you can delude yourself from the reality of 20th century history and the appalling crimes of Hitler and his cronies.

Wikipedia has a page on Richard Williamson.

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Introduction

In the second part of this article, I’m going to address the frequently made accusation that Darwinist theories of evolution led directly to the Holocaust.  This is an accusation that is levelled by those on the religious fringes who equate Darwinism with atheism, and seek to discredit both with an association with a particularly evil action.  In Part 1, I discussed the connections between Darwinist naural selection and the eugenic policies that were popular in several countries in the first half of the 20th century.  In Part 3, I will round the article up with a general discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

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PZ Myers over at Pharyngula spotted this weird blog post by a medic, Jeffrey Dach (alarmingly the blog is supposed to be about “Natural Medicine”.  PZ has rebutted Dach’s arguments pretty well, which is good – though they are just the usual arguments from disbelief that get routinely trotted out by creationists, and substantiates my belief that a medical qualification ≠ a scientific qualification.

I also notice that he’s referenced the recent New Scientist article that has raised hackles across the blogosphere (see my main blog posting), apart from the creationist fundies, who just lurve it:

Where Did Darwin Go Wrong?

Central to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is the Tree of Life. This idea is that simple life forms like one-celled organisms could be represented as the tree truck, and more complex organisms such as land mammals could be represented by smaller branches at the top of the tree.  According to a recent article in New Scientist, this “iconic concept of evolution, has turned out to be a figment of our imagination.”  Darwin’s tree has been rendered obsolete by the discovery of HGT, Horizontal Gene Transfer.

Apart from that, the article seems to be a rehash of the ignorant bleatings of the creationist crew.

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I gather from the New Humanist blog that Damian Thompson, who “is a Telegraph leader writer and editor-in-chief of a leading Catholic newspaper” and who blogs at The Daily Telegraph frequently takes a pop at them. He can write a pretty obnoxious blog title too: Evan Harris, let me tell you where you can shove your attempt to reform the Act of Settlement.  In that blog article, he reacts violently against Evan Harris, who tried to contact him  regarding the private members’ bill he’s just introduced to change the Act of Settlement.

You know something? Catholics don’t want to be liberated from this constitutional discrimination by a politician who advocates an end to the requirement that any abortion requires the consent of two doctors, arguing that the “procedure” can carried out by a nurse or even in the home.

I know I speak for many Catholics when I say that this man disgusts me. He is wrong about nearly everything, and wrong in a particularly nauseating fashion, too: self-righteous, humourless, self-important.

Seems to me that “He is wrong about nearly everything, and wrong in a particularly nauseating fashion, too: self-righteous, humourless, self-important” is a good description of Damian Thompson.

Personally, I tend towards republicanism, which would remove problems associated with the monarchy and religion.  I’m also rather irritated by religious types who tell women what they can or can’t do with their reproductive systems, particularly by male religious commentators.  For my part, I’ve never been in the position where abortion has been a choice for me or my partner; I don’t know which way we would go, but I’m damned sure I am glad the choice is there.

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Stephen Green’s made a wonderfully immoderate response to the rejection of his appeal to the ASA over the atheist bus adverts.  Over at Christian Voice (which I strongly suspect is something of a one-man-band) is a press release from the homophobic Green, in which he tries to spin this in his favour, but goes and blows it with an intemperate tirade:

We always knew the ASA was just another tool of the politically-correct secularist establishment, but here’s the proof. Their ruling is a good example of how the deck is stacked against Christians today, and the Church needs to wake up to the anti-Christian agenda right now. The good news is we now know that when the secularists decided to say: “There is probably no God”, they had no reason for making that absurd claim, and time has not helped them come up with one. The bad news is that if Christians don’t start standing up for their Faith and their Saviour soon, we shall see religious liberties trampled on, and the secularists will take us further down the road to their hell on earth.’

I like the way the arrogant twerp thinks this was targeted at Christians.  Foolish man.  But ultimately, he’s a pretty hate-filled person, as revealed in this quote:

On planet ASA, complaints from people of faith are not given the same weight as those from secularists. But what do you expect when the ASA Council is appointed and run by a campaigning homosexual, Chris, Lord, Smith of Finsbury?’

I’m now looking forward to the next Green activity.

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Ray Comfort is well-known as an internet-based atheism-basher. He’s some kind of New Zealand preacher type, now based in Southern California, where he runs an internet ministry business. He appears to be a very productive author, judging from his web presence. Based upon the intellectual quality of his web writings, I wouldn’t be keen to plough through one of these works.
His latest opus is a website entitled “Pull the Plug on Atheism”. I must admit, it’s an attractively produced web page. It’s a shame the pathetic quality of his anti-atheist writing doesn’t match the effort expended on website design.

Pull the Plug on Atheism is such a hilarious read, I’ve made a new web link category for it – Loony Tunes. The site is effectively a repository for some short articles which are pretty astonishing in their content. PZ Myers has demolished one of these already (The Atheist’s Problem with Females). I was intrigued by an article entitled The Atheist’s Bird Problem.

What this little diatribe reveals is the extent to which the author’s entire world-view is limited and restricted by his religious outlook, which seems to be a literalist fundamental view.

Mostly he lists a bunch of avian characteristics, punctuated only by question marks.   Some are fantastically ridiculous (“Are they nervous on their first flight?”), other are crass to the point at which I wonder if the whole website is a fabrication aimed at discrediting creationists…OK that’s a bit tin foil hat.  But, still, “How do they recognize old friends (they all look the same)?”  as a reason to believe in a creator!  The entire concatenated set of features intended to challenge atheists is entirely explicable by evolution by natural selection, or are just plain stupid (“If they think, do they think in English or Chirp? Probably Chirp. Are they taught language skills while in the nest or afterwards at some sort of hidden Chirp school?”).  Collectively they reveal Comfort for what he is, a spectacularly ignorant man, with a deep failure to comprehend and understand the wonderful world around him.  He finally winds up with this desperately sad paragraph:

As an atheist it must be a little frustrating having no one to thank for all this. How can you not stand in awe at the intelligence of the mind that put all this together? I marvel at the genius of God. Einstein did. Newton did. The atheist doesn’t. He sees the meal but never tastes it…because he doesn’t want to. What a tragedy.

I truly think that Comfort’s world view is terribly sad.  To have your thought and imagination so constrained by a dodgy old book with no evidence whatsoever to back its contradictory and confused content is indeed a deprivation.

For my part, I walk out of my door each morning, marvelling at the diversity of the living things I see, knowing that generations of scientists have provided evidence-based explanations of how all this diversity has arisen.  This, not an unreasoning belief in a creator, is what gives me a sense of joy.  The life I see around me is wonderful in its own right.

In many ways, this is the Creationist’s Bird Problem – everything is so easily explained if you believe in a creator, and allow that to limit your imagination – the ensuing loss of true understanding and appreciation of the world is great indeed.

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The Daily Telegraph reports that the Atheist bus adverts given green light by watchdog despite 326 complaints.  So the total number of objections has risen substantially since I last posted on the subject.

The decision is a victory for the British Humanist Association, which organised the campaign, as it had insisted the posters were only intended to reassure non-believers and not mock the religious. The slogan was created by Ariane Sherine, a comedy writer, as an antidote to posters placed on public transport by Christian groups that “threaten eternal damnation” to passengers.

Whether or not the intention had been to reassure non-believers, I don’t know, but it really seems to have been successful in rattling the cages of the true believers, and demonstrated the poverty of many of the pro-religion arguments.

I wonder if the ruling will dampen the enthusiam of the religious bloggers for posting.  In a way, I hope not, as I find them rather fun to read.  I’ve only read the content of two of the objections.

The ASA ruling can be found at their website: Atheist bus ad campaign is not in breach of the Advertising Code.  One wonders how long it took to plough through all those complaints.  But if they were of the same high quality of the two that emerged on the web, I guess it was a quick decision to take…

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has concluded that the “There’s probably no God” bus ad campaign by the British Humanist Association is not in breach of the advertising code.  The ASA will therefore not launch an investigation and the case is now closed.

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Over at my main blog site, I have posted quite a lengthy response to what I feel is a rather irrational article by Bryan Appleyard in The Times (For God’s sake, have Charles Darwin’s theories made any difference to our lives?). While it could be argued that much of his article is intended as reportage rather than comment (and indeed Appleyard does just that at his blog), towards the end of the article he veers off into what seem to me to be rather over the top assertions about the consequences of Darwinism-induced loss of religious belief on public morality, and even asserts that the Nazi racial program and the Holocaust in particular are directly due to Darwinist influences: Read the rest of this entry »

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Another broadsheet blogger rails against the atheist bus adverts, this time it’s one Gerald Warner, blogging at the Daily Telegraph.  In his absurd blog article, Warner (who is described as “…an author, broadcaster, columnist and polemical commentator who writes about politics, religion, history, culture and society in general. If it is an exaggeration to say that he believes the world has gone to the dogs, it is only a slight hyperbole.”) writes in support of Ron Heather, the evangelical bus driver who had a bit of a paddy and refused to drive a bus featuring the advert.  For some reason his 25 years’ service in the Royal Navy is thought relevant.  I would have thought that 25 years in the services would have inclined him to do what he was told.

Bizarrely entitled “Atheists will need martyrs if they are to compete with Christians”, the article seems to be a mish-mash of poor argument, with some spectacular statements.

…the most interesting part of the slogan is the second half: “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Since when was the message that there is no one in charge, nobody to protect us or lend succour, thought reassuring?

Well, I for one am glad that their doesn’t appear to be some supernatural being in overall control.  And I do feel that the advice to stop worrying and enjoy life is good advice.

The notion that an unregulated universe, world and society are enjoyable is intrinsically nihilist. It betrays the fundamental misunderstanding of Christianity that afflicts secularists. They do not see God as comforting, but as threatening. That is because the concept of any curb on human passions, any moral sanction, is now regarded as making it impossible to “enjoy your life”. This grey hedonism is contradicted by the visible phenomenon that many of the people who most zestfully enjoy life are Christians.

I’m afraid that passage is just nonsense.  Certainly, my view is that the world and the universe is unregulated by some supernatural entity.  The work is however regulated by humans, I admit mostly with a heritage of strictures and instructions ultimately derived from ancient believers in supernatural entities. Onward:

Formerly, the most feared bores were fundamentalist preachers; today it is obsessive atheists of the Dawkins/Pullman/Grayling persuasion who bore for Britain.

Actually the most feared bores are the religious bloggers, like the plagiarist Clifford Longley.  Longley couldn’t even be bothered to check the accuracy and veracity of a piece of text he lifted almost verbatim from one of a number of religious websites out there on the internet.

He finishes with this priceless gem:

One further observation by Ron Heather will strike a chord with many: “There would be no way buses would be able to drive around with an anti-Muslim message like that on the side mentioning Allah.” Christians have two millennia of martyrdom behind them. If atheists want to crusade and play with the big boys, are their convictions strong enough to brave a fatwah? Answers on the side of a bus…

Is Warner arrogant or what?  The advert that so exercises him is worded “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”  Why does he think this is specifically directed at his god in particular?

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