Christian Legal Centre “Shocked”!

A quick update on a story I posted several months back concerning a council housing officer’s sacking following an incident where he pushed dubious religious advice on an incurably ill member of the public (Delusional housing officer given the boot) – the BBC reports that the legal appeal mounted by the Christian Legal Centre has been rejected (BBC News – Christian Wandsworth Council worker loses sacking claim).  It turns out this isn’t just about the religious aspects of the case:

Wandsworth Council said Ms X complained that she faced a “30 minute barrage” from the advisor during which she was also told not to bother with doctors.
The council said it was “inappropriate and unacceptable” that Mr Amachree also revealed details about Ms X to the media which could have led to her identification.
The London South employment tribunal, which heard the case in June and July, ruled the dismissal was “fair” and there was no discrimination on the grounds of his religion.

Of course the Christian Legal Centre regard this as a “shock outcome” (Shock decision against Council worker sacked for mentioning God), while being somewhat economical with the truth.  One supposes this is one more plank in The slow, whiny death of British Christianity).

h/t The Freethinker

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Anne Widdecombe approves of the creationist zoo

Just a quick update on the Noah’s Ark Farm zo fiasco, in which a creationist zoo received an educational award. The excellent New Humanist blog carries an article responding to a piece by Widdecombe in the Daily Express supporting the “zoo” (Ann Widdecombe is a fan of Noah’s Ark Zoo).

The New Humanist writer has, of course visited the “educational award holder” zoo, and has several revealing photographs, and suspects that Widdecombe hasn’t herself been there.  Perhaps this is a continuation of the “Christians are discriminated against” line that the established church (and the Catholics of course) have been pushing of late – see also Johann Hari’s recent article (The slow, whiny death of British Christianity).

I wonder exactly what “evidence” for creation Widdecombe is thinking of when she says:

The British Humanist association says the award is inappropriate merely because the zoo concentrates on creation. In short the British Humanist association does not believe that children should be allowed even to discuss creation or to be exposed to any evidence that might support it.

Presumably some dusty old tome?  And what makes the Christian account of creation different and more “evidence”-based than any other religious account of creation?

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Welsh councillor gets hassle for labelling Scientology “stupid”

The New Humanist blog is one of many web sites reporting on a fracas involving criticism via Twitter of Scientology (Welsh councillor in trouble for calling Scientology “stupid” on Twitter ). The synopsis of this story is that

When Cardiff councillor John Dixon visited London last year to buy a wedding ring for his wife to be, a stroll past the “Dianetics and Life Improvement Centre” on Tottenham Court Road (just round the corner from our office, as it happens) prompted him to make the following quip on Twitter:“I didn’t know the Scientologists had a church on Tottenham Court Road. Just hurried past in case the stupid rubs off.”

This has appeared to generate a bit of a problem for poor John Dixon, as the “Church” of Scientology made a complaint to the Welsh public service watchdog. As a consequence Dixon’s facing disciplinary action.

Problem is, as someone who’s read Russell Miller’s biography of Scientology’s founder L. Ron Hubbard (the wonderfully titled Bare Face Messiah), I’m rather inclined to agree with Dixon. It’s also why I place quotation marks around “Church”, and why I believe Scientology is complete claptrap and an exercise in generating a huge income. Herewith my modest contribution to the Streisand Effect.

On the other hand (and in a spirit of even-handedness), I suggest the core beliefs of most established religions are equally loopy.

(Originally posted at flies&bikes)

HM Government – Petition regarding the Pope’s visit to the UK

A petition was raised at the UK Government’s petition site regarding the upcoming Papal visit to these shores – a response from the Government (presumably the new Cleggeron-led affair): HM Government. The petition was filed by Peter Tatchell:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to disassociate the British government from the Pope’s intolerant views ahead of the Papal visit to Britain in September 2010. We urge the Prime Minister to make it clear that his government disagrees with the Pope’s opposition to women’s reproductive rights, gay equality, embryonic stem cell research and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV. We ask the Prime Minister to express his disagreement with the Pope’s role in the cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy, his rehabilitation of the Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson, and his decree paving the way for the beatification and sainthood of the war-time Pope, Pius XII, who stands accused of failing to speak out against the Holocaust. We also request the Prime Minister to assure us that the Pope’s visit will not be financed by the British taxpayer.

As seems to be usual in the responses to such petitions, the HMG reply isn’t very forthcoming:

Pope Benedict XVI will visit the UK from 16 to 19 September at the invitation of Her Majesty The Queen. The visit is described as a Papal Visit with the status of a State Visit. The programme will include a number of pastoral events, which are the responsibility of the Catholic Church, as well as some significant official events, which will provide opportunities for issues of common interest to the UK Government and the Holy See to be discussed at the highest level.

The Holy See has a global reach and so is a valuable international partner for the UK Government. Our relationship with the Holy See enables us to address jointly a range of foreign policy and development issues. These include working towards delivery of the Millennium Development Goals, addressing the impacts of climate change, preventing and resolving conflict, and finding ways to encourage disarmament.

As with any bilateral diplomatic relationship, there are issues on which we disagree. The Holy See is clear on our positions on these issues. However, we believe that Pope Benedict’s visit will provide an opportunity to strengthen and build on our relationship with the Holy See in areas where we share interests and goals, and to discuss those issues on which our positions differ.

Since the visit has the status of a State Visit, and some parts of the programme are being organised by the British Government, a proportion of the costs of the Visit will fall to the Government. The costs can be divided into two categories: policing costs, which will be met by the State from existing policing budgets, and non-policing costs, which will be split between the Catholic Church and the Government. The total size of the costs at this stage is not confirmed but discussions are currently under way to decide the appropriate levels of contribution from the Government and the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, and of Scotland. Other parts of the programme, such as the Masses and other pastoral events, are the responsibility of the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences. The direct costs of these events will therefore be borne by the Catholic Church.

None of this really addresses the request to dissociate the Government from Pope’s “intolerant views”.  It would seem that being the leader of a major and established cult empowers one to hold divisive and discriminatory views, and to express them widely.
Will the pointless HMG petition site survive the the Cleggeron onslaught of Government spending?  And why not get rid of it – I’ve never seen a response that indicates the Government takes on board any views expressed.  (The same might be said of the the Cleggeron Government’s website for citizens to suggest legislation for repeal). 

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Two putrid articles on Hitchens by catholic commentators

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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Creationist Claims in Northern Ireland (UTV News)

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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Creationist claims in Northern Ireland (The Guardian)

Sophie Deboick has a rather good comment article in the Guardian today concerning recent pro-creationist manoeuvring by politicians and religious lobbyists in Northern Ireland (Creationist claims in Northern Ireland | Sophia Deboick | Comment is free |  I’ve spent the last few blog articles commenting on this situation.  Debroick’s article homes in on the observation that these biblical literalists are basing their spurious claims for inclusion in the Ulster Museum of their lame-brained theories on a “human rights” claim.  She’s right in her criticism – scientific progress is not based on a popularity contest.  Just because the Caleb Foundation and Nelson McCausland make the (unsubstantiated) claim that a third of the Northern Irish population believes in creationism does not make it a worthy alternative to science.  Debroick closes her article with this nicely worded passage:

We shouldn’t be complacent about attacks on humankind’s scientific
achievements and the integrity of our cultural institutions, and the
situation is all the more alarming when those who criticise secular
values do so in its own language of hard fought-for rights. Despite the
rhetoric, the Caleb Foundation and its proponents seem to have little
investment in the public understanding of history and science. This is
nothing more than an attempt to abuse the language of rights to go
beyond the religious respect they are already accorded and secure
religious privilege. It should be recognised as such.

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The Caleb Foundation

My interest in the Caleb Foundation was fuelled by recent news stories about the Northern Ireland Culture Minister Nelson McCausland’s communication to the Ulster Museum concerning his desire that the museum offer space to creationist claptrap, apparently on the grounds that many people believe in divine creation (see Creationism in Northern Ireland).  This was followed by news that The Caleb Foundation want to see creationist tosh presented at a visitor centre to be built at the Giant’s Causeway (see More creationism in Northern Ireland).  It’s not clear whether Mr McCausland is a member of the Caleb Foundation or not, but it would seem that the Caleb Foundation supports his desire to pollute the Ulster Museum with creationism (see the newsletter pieces dated 26th and 27th May at the Caleb Foundation website).

Who are the Caleb Foundation?
You can see the leading lights of the Caleb Foundation at their website.  These individuals are the Caleb Council, comprising “representatives from a number of mainline Evangelical Denominations”.  And indeed they are, with a considerable number of Free Presbyterians in their midst.  Being an atheist, the fine details of their individual cults are more than a little murky, but there is a heavy evangelical slant to them.  You can also see their Statement of Faith.  Top of the list is:

That the Bible is the inspired, infallible and inerrant word of God. It is final in its authority. None may add thereto or take away therefrom except at their own peril.

OK, so these guys believe in the literal truth of the Bible. This is presumably what restricts their critical capacity, which as we’ll see when considering their coverage of science (particularly relating to what they see as the evolution-creationism “controversy” is poor.  Interestingly, and for the notice of some of the posters in the Caleb Foundation Forum (most or all of whom appear to be atheists), they are quite clear which bible they refer to:

In the interests of uniformity all spokesmen, public statements, publications and meetings of The Caleb Foundation shall use and quote from the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures.

The main protagonist in the Ulster Museum story is Nelson McCausland, DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Assembly.  He’s had a bit of a roasting for suggesting that there should be consideration of creationism in the Ulster Museum, apparently on the grounds that a large proportion of the population believe in a creation myth (presumably his christian creation myth).  McCausland has a blog, “Nelson’s View“, and this is quite informative on his dealings with the Ulster Museum.  His ministerial position clearly requires him to have a duty to the museum sector, and a quick overview of blog indicates that the creationism kerfuffle is merely one issue of about ten that he has with the content of the museum (the others are to do with displays relating to cultural aspects of life and history in Northern Ireland).  He makes no mention on his blog of his religious affiliation and there are no links to the Caleb Foundation (though he does record meetings with representatives).  The Caleb Foundation clearly approves of his creationist stance.

What do the Caleb Foundation want?

We see a number of links within the front page of their website – two significant items are “The Lord’s Day” and “Creation“, with the latter supported by  a link to “ULSTER MUSEUM DATA“, of which more later.  From perusing the Caleb Foundation website, and looking around the internet, it’s clear that these guys work quite hard to influence events relating to their main objectives of enforcing literalist bible interpretation and imposing evangelical (but probably minority) christian views on the rest of Northern Ireland.  Politically, it would seem they are pretty much aligned with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).  Northern Irish politics operates slightly differently to mainland UK politics, with most (all?) Northern Irish MPs being members of local parties, often with sectarian roots.

The Lord’s Day

I blogged a while ago on the subject of Sunday observance (Ferries on The Sabbath), in the context of changes to business in the Outer Hebrides, particularly Lewis and Harris where the predominant form of christianity is The Free Church of Scotland (aka “the Wee Frees”, I guess pejoratively).  I have sympathy for the cultural situation regarding the observance of Sunday as a day of rest in that case.  However for a modern, diverse society (particularly one that has experienced deep sectarian divides) to continually resist normal day to day activity because of scripture strikes me as wrong.

There are two links related to the Ulster Museum fracas. The first, “Creationism”, merely links to an audio about dinosaurs, which frankly I cannot bother listening to after the plug for text for use in church messages and newsletters. The second link “ULSTER MUSEUM DATA” leads one to a list of exhibits compiled during someone’s visit to the museum. I guess the errors are due to hasty scribblings. This is rather a peculiar page – after listing a series of statements associated with dates, we reach

It’s claimed that fossil rocks are 300 -800 million years old. Yet a modern coelacanth is displayed and we are told they are still found.

Now this statement is classic “failure to understand”. More “failure to understand” is to come:

“In evolution, however, organisms are limited by what they inherit from their ancestors and by the properties of the biological materials of which they are made”. [A legitimate question for us might be ‘how then can one species become another?’]

Perhaps the anonymous visitor to the museum could have read a bit more widely than the bible – perhaps dipping into any responsible biology text book. And look, more:

Under a heading, “The Importance of Fossils”, we are told, “only a tiny fraction of living things become fossils”. [We could therefore argue that a massive amount of evidence is simply ignored!]

So the undiscovered fossils (and the specimens that never became fossilised) are somehow “ignored evidence”. Does the anonymous writer really not understand concepts of sampling? Ultimately, this page on the website doesn’t really achieve much – I suspect the reader is supposed to disbelieve the statements of age, and accept the silly comments from the author.

Other views of the Caleb Foundation on the internet…

The British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) hosts an excellent series of pages relating to creationism and its perpetrators, including this page on the Caleb Foundation.  While some of the links appear to have changed (e.g. links which are given to creationism in schools and an attach on a Radio Ulster person now link to the Ulster Museum Notes and a contact form respectively), there’s information on the political and religious affiliation of the Caleb Foundation.  BCSE reckons (and they are right) that the Caleb Foundation is riddled with creationists and creationism.  It’s also clear that Caleb Foundation members regularly lobby of inclusion of creationism on school classes and on other platforms.  The BCSE also suggest that the DUP is committed to the teaching of creationism (despite the absence from their 2007 manifesto), and relates this to the party’s protestant background, and implicates the Caleb Foundation either in the root of this policy or as a means of lobbying on its behalf.  It’s an article worth reading – for example on the subject of the religious/creationist axis in the DUP (bear in mind the article appears to date from 2007 and won’t reflect events in the recent UK General Election):

The DUP is the largest Northern Irish political party in terms of the number of seats it has both in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in Westminster. It holds 36 out of 55 Protestant seats in the 108 seat in the Assembly and 9 of the 18 Northern Ireland seats in Westminster. It is believed that around half or more of DUP MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) are members of the tiny Free Presbyterian Church although the latter’s membership is less that 1% of the population of the province.(2)

As is the case in the USA, getting creationism into Northern Irish schools appears to involve a considerable degree of sneakiness as well as extreme language and paranoid claims by its proponents. The martyrdom complex is openly displayed as well. However, the DUP’s position undoubtedly reflects the rampant belief in creationism amongst evangelicals in the province so the DUP is not working in a social vacuum. As there is no official, public, DUP position on the matter it is not clear how widespread the support for creationism is in the party. The evidence so far suggests that a core of, maybe, around half a dozen very senior politicians within the DUP, are actively promoting it.

The silly Biologos Foundation website reports on the Giant’s Causeway news story.  Neither supports nor decries the Caleb Foundation’s position, and refers readers to the BBC News website.

The Wikipedia page on the late George Dawson MLA reinforces the tight integration of the Caleb Foundation with the DUP, and thereby the Northern Ireland political scene.  Here is a Caleb Foundation submission regarding the proposed Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland (pdf) – he document makes it abundantly clear the literalist approach to the bible these people take.

There are further examples of Caleb Foundation’s political lobbying for adoption of literalist and fundamentalist principles.  For example the European Institute for Protestant Studies reprinted a press release on the Caleb Foundation’s response to an EU Gender Directive:

The Caleb Foundation has welcomed news that the First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Dr Ian Paisley MP, MLA, has blocked the implementation of EU legislation to include homosexual, lesbian and transgender people.

In a press release the Caleb Foundation said: “This EU Directive carries with it the threat to criminalise honest, sincere and devout people who happen to believe that certain practices are morally objectionable. There are many tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland who hold these kinds of lifestyles to be sinful and offensive. That they should be coerced in law to facilitate such practices is itself morally wrong.”

At this point, I felt that I’d sufficiently explored the Caleb Foundation.  Indeed having encountered the BCSE’s pages on the subject, I’d happily refer the reader to those pages, which offer a detailed overview of the Caleb Foundation’s membership, motives and activities.

More creationism in Northern Ireland

According to the BBC (BBC News – Call for creationism exhibit at Giant’s Causeway) the chairman of Northern Ireland’s odd-sounding Caleb Foundation, Wallace Thompson, is calling for creationist information boards to be placed in an information centre at the Giant’s Causeway.  Sounds as though the idea may be getting short shrift:

SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis said he was opposed to a creationist representation at the new facility.”You are talking about a visitors’ centre which will attract people from all over the world,” he said.”It will be dealing with the natural sciences in relation to the Giant’s Causeway.”I do not think it would be appropriate in these circumstances to have a very narrow religious view expressed.”

Of course, as I blogged recently (Creationism in Northern Ireland) there has been a recent attempt to get creationism into Ulster Museum.  The call for creationist nonsense at the Giant’s Causeway is based on similar claims.  As Thompson puts it:

“All we are asking for is that the views that we hold, which
are based on the Word of God, are at least respected and taken on

But bronze-age myths are not something that should be used in this way, no matter how many deluded individuals may believe them.

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Creationism in Northern Ireland

Just a quick post as I’m cycle touring and Internet access is infrequent.
Yesterday’s Guardian had an article describing the Culture Minister Nelson McCausland’s view that the Ulster Museum should better reflect creationist views. McCausland’s reported to have said that this is a “human rights issue”, as he claims that around a third of the Northern Ireland population hold creationist views, and he thinks that the museum should “reflect the views of all the people in Northern Ireland in all it’s richness and diversity”. This isn’t his only slightly odd belief – he’s reported to believe that Ulster Protestants are one of the lost tribes of Israel.
On a cultural and historical level inclusion of creationist views is perhaps acceptable – after all, in the 17th Century, Archbishop Ussher calculated the date of the Earth’s creation as October 4004 BC – but in relation to scientific exhibits such a view is risible.
McCausland’s views appear to be shared by his NI Assembly colleague Mervyn Storey, who’s reported to have been at the forefront of a campaign to promote creationism in Northern Ireland’s museums. More worryingly, Storey was the chair of the NI Assembly education committee, though by implication no longer holds that role. Is Mervyn Storey Northern Ireland’s counterpart of Texan dentist Don McLeroy?