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According to the Irish Times (Minister withdraws from launch of anti-evolution book – The Irish Times – Tue, Sep 14, 2010), Conor Lenihan, the Irish Minister for Science will not be launching the anti-evolution book “The Origin of Specious Nonsense”.  This book has a website – but beware, on my notebook, it seemed to set the processor racing – presumably the over-enthusiastic application of graphics. Certainly the site uses copious amounts of Flash.

It does seem to be the usual stuff.  A self-educated author embraces religion, and none of his background really suggests he has beene exposed to any training or education in science.  The website includes some quotes from the book, which conists mostly of the usual creationist canards.  I wonder if Mr Lenihan took the time to look at the website (or even the book itself) before agreeing to the now-cancelled book launch.

Judging from the book website, I would suggest that having a Science Minister associated with it in any way would raise questions about the Minister’s fitness for that office.  But, hey, this is another country’s government, and the UK also seems to specialise win Government Ministers with no special qualifications for the job!

I looked up Conor Lenihan on Wikipedia.  Seems like an interesting guy with a record of public pronouncements seemingly at odds with his political roles.  Take for example, the article’s section Attitude to Immigrants (Mr Lenihan was Minister of State for Integration Policy from June 2007 to April 2009).

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With the media insanity of the General Election now upon us, it’s always interesting to know what your MP or candidate MPs believe.  Particularly where odd beliefs are concerned.

I came across The Skeptical Voter, which is rather interesting.  For example, at the page Early Day Motion 2708: Science Education, we can see who signed the Early Day Motion

“That this House shares the concerns of the British Centre for Science Education that the literature being sent to every school in the United Kingdom by the creationist religious group Truth in Science is full of scientific mistakes and fails to disclose the group’s creationist beliefs and objectives; and urges all schools to treat this literature with extreme caution.”

There’s also ample opportunity to see the dumb things your elected representative might have said on matters ranging from homeopathy to abortion to climate change and more.

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There’s a nice article at the BBC News site (Camp offers ‘godless alternative’) about the Camp Quest being held in the UK. Of course summer camps here in the UK are somewhat less established than is the case in the USA, where it would seem from news reports that they often have a broadly christian attitude.

You can find out more about Camp Quest at their website. I’ve been seeing quite a lot of negative comment about Camp Quest in the UK press, much of it rather viciously and inaccurately labelling it as some devious brainchild of Richard Dawkins and aimed at indoctrinating children away from christianity. In reality, Dawkins’ involvement was limited to a donation of less than £500 from the Richard Dawkins Foundation.

The BBC News report makes rather refreshing reading – the kids don’t seem to be suffering indoctrination and appear to be enjoying the experience, despite the poor weather. Indeed several families aren’t particularly opposed to attendance at more christian camps!

The whole focus seems to be on a rational approach to evidence. For example, the camp’s director is quoted:

“If the children were to come up with a question about creationism for example, we would discuss the evidence. We wouldn’t say, ‘Creationism is rubbish’… if they weigh the evidence and think there’s a good case for it.”

One neat touch is the “unicorn task” – the children are told that in the camp lives a pair of unicorns. Unfortunately, these beasts are invisible, can’t be heard, tasted, smelt or touched – furthermore the only evidence to support the assertion of their existence is an ancient dusty tome. The task is to devise a way to disprove their existence.

It’s this amusing task that’s aroused the ire of a churchman, who’s the lone protestor waving placards at the gates, who clearly understands the implications of the task…

I’m not particularly convinced that I’d have enjoyed going to a camp as a child – I’ve never been one for being organised, but perhaps this might have been the one…

Update:  I see a commentator at The Independent also labels Camp Quest as “Richard Dawkins’ five-day atheist summer camp” (Ellie Levenson: An atheist camp is a terrible idea)

Update 2: Note the blinkered nonsense in many of the comments here.  The comments get progressively more stupid, it seems to me (hat-tip – PZ Myers)

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Here’s a video of Christopher Hitchens engaging in a debate with a bunch of christians (hat tip PZ Myers).  Myers appears to have considerably more stamina than I, as I found it pretty hard to get beyond the drony guy doing the introduction and selling his magazines.  What did strike me visually as I watched the five speakers twitching and adjusting their microphones etc, was the resemblance to the Last Supper…

But, with the first speaker, here we go with very dubious “evidence” for God.  It’s all Ray Comfort-level thinking, or rather non-thinking, anthropic principle, belief in a deity though a lack of understanding and knowledge.  After Hitchens we’re back to more bullshit and calls to the anthropic principle, requirement for god for moral values.  At this point I couldn’t take any more…PZ Myers must have a stronger stomach than I – check his report!

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The recent suspension of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s YouTube account has apparently been reversed.  There doesn’t seem to be an announcement on the JREF website, nor has an official explanation of the reason for the suspension been revealed.  However, it was only a brief hiatus, and it’s good that normal service will be restored.

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I guess one shouldn’t be surprised by this doublethink, but Catholic bishops in the US have rejected the bonkers alternative “therapy” reiki – because it’s superstition.  As The Guardian (Catholic bishops in US ban Japanese reiki) reports (and I’m always cautious when reading news on April 1st, but the article is dated 31st March!), the bishops say:

“A Catholic who puts his or her trust in reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no man’s land that is neither faith nor science. Superstition corrupts one’s worship of God by turning one’s religious feeling and practice in a false direction.”

Apparently the group of US bishops say that reiki is incompatible with Christian teaching and scientific evidence.  Since when has scientific evidence been important to religion?  And isn’t belief in an Invisible Magic Friend rather superstitious in itself?  A christian Reiki master (actually mistress, I suppose) is quoted as saying:

“There is so much bad information about reiki, anti-Christian information, on the internet,” she said. “It says we channel spirits and that’s not true. Reiki balances energy in the same way as acupuncture or reflexology. I know of two nuns in the Philadelphia area, one who runs a retreat centre, who have done wonderful work. The bishops weren’t talking to women like that.”

Of course, reiki is in the same frame as other quack therapies such as acupuncture and reflexology.  And it’s not that different to religion in at least one sense – it requires a complete suspension of rational thinking to take it seriously.

Update: A few bloggers beat me to it on this story – The New Humanist blog has some additional information worth looking at.

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James Randi with some expensive art
Image via Wikipedia

It appears that the James Randi Educational Foundation have had their YouTube account suspended – no reason is known.

The JREF are an outstanding bulwark against the rise of paranormal and supernatural ideas in society, internationally.  I cannot for the life of me see why this decision can have be made.  The JREF’s mission, as quoted from their website:

The James Randi Educational Foundation is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1996. Its aim is to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today.

Seems eminently reasonable to me.  You can write letters in protest, though I guess it would help if we knew why the JREF’s account had been suspended.

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