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In a rather incoherent* article in the Sunderland Echo, the Principal of Grindon Hall Christian School has made interesting claims about the much-discussed ‘Creation Policy’ document (Headteacher blasts claims his city school teaches creationism – All News – Sunderland Echo)

Chris Gray, principal of Grindon Hall Christian School, slammed a report that claimed the Pennywell school was run by a group with creationist views. The report, which appeared in a national newspaper, also claimed there was a document on the school’s website stating they taught creationism as a scientific theory. However, Mr Gray said the document was removed years ago and was originally written to distance the school from those views.

It’s interesting to note that the document really was present on their web server last week, when I blogged about it. I guess, strictly speaking, since there wasn’t a link from a web page, it could be argued that it wasn’t on their website…I suppose. But Mr Gray goes on to claim

“When we applied to the Government to become a free school they made sure of that and what The Guardian has done is find a very old document that we took off the website in 2005.”

Well, that doesn’t compute, since according to the Word file’s properties the document was created by Rachel Nurse (who appears to be a school administrator) in 2007. Mr Gray also claims

“And it was first written to distance ourselves from the issue of creationism. “I don’t believe in creationism, none of my staff believe in it and so I’m hoping this will blow over.

I don’t really understand how this document could be seen as having been written to distance the school from creationism. The document has now been deleted from the School’s webserver, but I imagine I’m not alone in having a copy.

* I’m not accusing the Principal of incoherence, merely that the printed article is incoherent.

In reponse to the latest crawling from a Student Union over the recent Jesus and Mo fracas, and indeed the recent example of intimidation at an event featuring a dicussion of sharia law and women’s rights:

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Today

A nice response to the ongoing fracas at the UCL student’s union over the use of a Jesus and Mo cartoon in an atheist group’s publicity. Read more about this at The New Humanist (Student atheist society in censorship row with student union over Muhammad cartoon)

The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASHS) at University College London has become embroiled in a censorship row with the university’s student union over the use of a Muhammad-related cartoon on a Facebook page advertising its weekly drinks social.

An interesting situation, particularly given UCL’s origin as the first University in England to be established on an entirely secular basis. My irony meter is flickering in the red zone.

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New Statesman – Richard Dawkins to guest-edit the New Statesman Christmas issue

In a 100-page special issue, the evolutionary biologist and bestselling author Richard Dawkins brings together some of the world’s leading scientists, thinkers and writers.

Should be interesting!

Over at Epiphenom, Tom Rees has a nice ‘Research Blogging’ style article (Efficacy of prayer questioned) about a paper by Francis Galton dating back a few years now – doing the review as if it were of a contemporary paper.

Bottom line: no statistical evidence for efficacy (but it might make people feel good).

Galton, F (1872). Statistical Inquiries into the Efficacy of Prayer. Fortnightly Review , 12, 125-135

If you're not religious, say so in the 2011 UK census!

The British Humanist Association has been campaigning for UK citizens to accurately respond to the census question on religion.

Why should I answer the question at all? Well, this is a personal thing and I wouldn’t pressurise people into any specific answer or none.  But census data get used for all sorts of policy decisions, among them the role of religion in our everyday lives.  What tends to happen is that people confuse the cultural heritage with religious beliefs they do not hold to.

Why does it matter? The BHA has prepared a concise summary of how the 2001 census data on religious belief were used (or misused may be closer to reality.  We should not be logging ourselves as Jedi Knights as some kind or prank.  We should not say we are christian if we not longer practice the faith.  We should be upfront and truthful about our religious faith.

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Christopher Hitchens has recently been diagnosed with cancer, as has been widely reported.  I hope he makes a good recovery.  And what seems to be the typical response by catholic commentators?

Christina Odone (The Telegraph) is apparently praying for him. Pointless, and mildly irritating.  But Francis Phillips (Catholic Herald – Perhaps throat cancer will move Christopher Hitchens to a change of heart) takes it just a bit too far.  Aside from this (I wonder how effective prayer really is!):

[...] if my own doctor had broken similar news to me I would have been shocked, so he has my sympathy; prayers as well – a more practical remedy.

He suggests Hitchins will have some kind of last minute conversion:

Perhaps visiting his doctor will be a wake-up call for Hitchens?

The brief article is patronising and offensive.  And check out the comments that follow the article at the Catholic Herald.  Over at The Independent, however, Tom Sutcliffe reckons Hitchens might be finding the opinions of the christian axis amusing (Tom Sutcliffe: Hitchens baffles the godly – again).

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The UTV website has re-presented Sophia Deboick’s excellent Guardian article on the recent Northern Ireland creationism fracas incolving Nelson McCausland and the Caleb Foundation (UTV News – Creationist claims in Northern Ireland).  It’s elicited a few comments so far, including a lone voice in favour of a creationist world view:

I believe that the first 3 commentators are seriously deluded. I also believe that the Bible speaks the truth and that God created the world. Science has not proven that fossils are millions of years old. thats just a theory based on very limited available knowledge. Science has stated many things to be fact in the past, only to change their “facts” as new “evidence” comes to light. They once told as assuredly that the world was flat. To believe that nothing created everything, takes a lot of faith indeed. I will stick with my belief in a creator. When I look at the beauty and wonder in the world, I find the evidence of an intelligent designer, compelling. In the future if I am wrong, what have I lost? If those who reject the creator are wrong, what have they lost?

This displays classic creationist viewpoints based on ignorance.  I would be very surprised if the evidence of the antiquity of fossils could reasonably be “very limited”!  I’d also suggest that a “flat earth” world view pre-dated science as we know it.  But the point I’d like to finish on is emboldened above.  This blog is entitled “Wonderful Life” because when I step outside my door each morning, I find myself (like the commenter) struck by the beauty and diversity of life.  I find beauty in the things I do understand of the natural explanation of the diversity of life, and a sense of excitement about all the things yet to be investigated.  So much better that living in fear of a non-existent supernatural entity.

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The Reverend Dr Peter Hearty (of Platitude of the Day fame) has announced that signed copies of five books by Richard Dawkins have been put up for auction on eBay.  From the Platitude of the Day web page:

Five Richard Dawkins books, signed by the author and dedicated to the “Platitude of the Year 2009 winner” are now being auctioned on eBay. Proceeds of the auction will go to the National Secular Society.

The books were the prize offered for the most platitudinous Thought For The Day on Radio 4 during 2009. This was won by the Rt Rev James Jones, Lord Bishop of Liverpool and Bishop of Prisons, for reminding us of the contribution that Christianity played in solving the problems of Northern Ireland. The prize was forfeit as the bishop failed to attend the award ceremony during the Secularist of the Year.

These books therefore form a unique and highly collectable set. They were purchased by Roger Scotford and are being auctioned by Peter Hearty. The five books are:

The Greatest Show on Earth (hardback)
Climbing Mount Improbable (paperback)
Unweaving the Rainbow (paperback)
The God Delusion (paperback)
The Ancestor’s Tale (paperback)

More details on eBay.

The often incomprehensibly silly Andrew Brown (of The Guardian’s Comment is Free Belief section) has published a particularly dopey diatribe against the National Secular Society (Cherie Booth unfair to atheists? | Andrew Brown | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk).

As background, this follows a case Booth presided over a few days ago, concerning an individual who picked a fight while in a queue in a bank, ultimately breaking his victim’s jaw.  Booth handed down a suspended sentence in part (apparently) because the grumpy bruiser was religious.  This raised the ire of the National Secular Society, who’s president, Terry Sanderson has made an official complaint.  As Terry puts it:

Yet despite saying violence on our streets “has to be taken seriously” Ms Blair/Booth QC let Miah walk free from court, telling him: “I am going to suspend this sentence for the period of two years based on the fact you are a religious person and have not been in trouble before. You caused a mild fracture to the jaw of a member of the public standing in a queue at Lloyds Bank. You are a religious man and you know this is not acceptable behaviour.”

Clearly, the NSS objection is that favourable treatment should not be afforded thugs on the basis that they hold religious convictions  Now Andrew Brown weighs in at the Guardian’s CiF Belief.  In a rather dim piece of illogic, he writes:

In Sanderson’s world, judges should say things like “Although you have no previous convictions, you are none the less a follower of Pope Benedict XVI and so unable to tell right from wrong. I therefore find myself compelled to impose a custodial sentence”

Nope, that’s not the point.  The person’s religious beliefs (or lack of) should not enter the consideration of sentence.  There are 646 comments as I write.  Should I bother?  One sceptic’s blog has complained to the editor about the article (Complaint to the Guardian reader’s editor) and Brown’s contributions to the comments thread, in which Brown seems to elevate the whole thing to encompass the NSS’s protest about our Government subsidising the Pope’s upcoming visit.

On which subject, my view is that Pope Ratzo visits either as head of his cult – in which case he can pay his own way but should be allowed to make his disgraceful comments about proposed UK equality legislation, or he can come as Head of State of the Vatican, in which case his costs might be subsidised by the state, but he should be rather more circumspect about criticising UK Government policy.

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