Irish Minister won’t now launch anti-evolution book

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).

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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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.

Creationism
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

COELACANTH
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:

EVOLUTION – ADAPTATION OR DESIGN?
“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:

“FOSSILS – LIFE OF THE PAST”
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.

Skeptical Voter wiki

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.

John Denham’s faith gang

This press release (John Denham: Appointment of new faith advisers) from the Department of Communities and Local Government outlines John Denham’s silly Faith group.  The Heresiarch has profiled this gang of 13 (Heresy Corner: The God Squad) very comprehensively.  Number one on this list also received congratulations from Platitude of the Day (Congratulations to Rev Canon Dr Alan Billings).  I was interested to know what this miscellaneous group of believers in mumbo-jumbo are actually being assembled to achieve.  And why do believers in mysticism get a hotline to Government that’s not open to humanists (or indeed to other sects)?

The press release begins reasonably

To encourage a deeper and broader relationship between Government and faith communities, Communities Secretary John Denham today announced the appointment of 13 new faith advisers who will act as a ‘sounding board’ to advise on effective engagement with faith communities, and the impact of Communities and Local Government policy on faith communities.

So, on the face of it, this is entirely reasonable.  Insofar as it goes.  Because of course if advice of faith groups is really needed, there do seem to be a lot of gaps.  And why do those with no faith not deserve greater understanding by Government?  It also seems to be a rather unnecessary group, since as the press release goes on to say:

Government already engages with faith communities through the Faith Communities Consultative Council (FCCC) and their important role will continue. However over recent months John Denham has said that he wants to see as many channels of communication open as possible and this includes hearing from a wide range of expert voices.

Quite why John Denham wants to see this additional channel is unclear.  Perhaps the FCCC is under the control of a different Department*.  Things get a little murkier later in the press release, with this quotation from John Denham:

“This new panel brings together an unprecedented wealth of knowledge and experience that will help advise on the big issues facing society such as the economy, parenting, achieving social justice and tackling climate change.

“For millions of people the values instilled by their faith are central to shaping their behaviour. We should continually seek ways of supporting and enhancing the contribution faith makes to the decision-making process on the central issues of our time.

“Each adviser is has an outstanding track record of achievement. Together they will help inform Government on the views and values of faith communities, enabling us to learn from the unique insights that faith groups bring to contemporary issues.”

So these advisers are getting their faith-based opinions (presumably informed by their interpretations of their sects’ dusty and holy tomes)  listened to in the “decision-making process” in relation to the “central issues of our time”.  Where does that leave those of us with no belief?  Or indeed members of other (sometimes very large) sects?

*It would seem not.  From the footnote to editors: “The FCCC is a non statutory body, facilitated by CLG. It aims to provide a national strategic forum, chiefly concerned with issues related to cohesion, integration, the development of sustainable communities, neighbourhood renewal, and social inclusion.”

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Richard Dawkins visits the University of Oklahoma

Just before Richard Dawkins made a visit to address an audience at the University of Oklahoma (I believe as part of a Darwin 200 celebration), The Oklahoma Legislature passed a wacko motion (Oklahoma hates Richard Dawkins):

WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma is a publicly funded institution which should be open to all ideas and should train students in all disciplines of study and research and to use independent thinking and free inquiry; andWHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma has planned a year-long celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s theory of evolution, called the “Darwin 2009 Project”, which includes a series of lectures, public speakers, and a course on the history of evolution; and

WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma, as a part of the Darwin 2009 Project, has invited as a public speaker on campus, Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published opinions, as represented in his 2006 book “The God Delusion”, and public statements on the theory of evolution demonstrate an intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking and are views that are not shared and are not representative of the thinking of a majority of the citizens of Oklahoma; and

WHEREAS, the invitation for Richard Dawkins to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma on Friday, March 6, 2009, will only serve to present a biased philosophy on the theory of evolution to the exclusion of all other divergent considerations rather than teaching a scientific concept.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE 1ST SESSION OF THE 52ND OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE:

THAT the Oklahoma House of Representative strongly opposes the invitation to speak on the campus of the University of Oklahoma to Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, whose published statements on the theory of evolution and opinion about those who do not believe in the theory are contrary and offensive to the views and opinions of most citizens of Oklahoma.

THAT the Oklahoma House of Representatives encourages the University of Oklahoma to engage in an open, dignified, and fair discussion of the Darwinian theory of evolution and all other scientific theories which is the approach that a public institution should be engaged in and which represents the desire and interest of the citizens of Oklahoma.

THAT a copy of this resolution be transmitted to the President of the University of Oklahoma, the Dean of the College of Arts and Science at the University of Oklahoma, and the Chair of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma.

I confess to being darkly amused by the bit where the foolish legislator says: “an intolerance for cultural diversity and diversity of thinking”.

According to PZ Myers’ account over at Pharyngula (The greasy fingerprints of the Discovery Institute are all over it), not only was this a watered down version, the original version of which was highly critical of the University of Oklahoma’s Department of Zoology, but there are suggestions that the Discovery Institute was connected with the motion.

WHEREAS, the University of Oklahoma is a publicly funded institution which should be open to all ideas and should train students in all disciplines of study and research and to use independent thinking and free inquiry, not indoctrinate students in one-sided study and thinking; and

WHEREAS, the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma has, as evidenced on the departmental homepage, been framing the Darwinian theory of evolution as doctrinal dogmatism rather than a hypothetical construction within the disciplines of the sciences; and

WHEREAS, not only has the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma been engaged in one-sided indoctrination of an unproven and unpopular theory but has made an effort to brand all thinking in dissent of this theory as anti-intellectual and backward rather than nurturing such free thinking and allowing a free discussion of all ideas which is the primary purpose of a university;

Nevertheless, Richard Dawkins did visit the University, and  member of the audience appears to have recorded the opening few minutes of his presentation:

I think that one of the things that this clip illustrates is the bizarre way that religious fundamentalists, particularly those that are so ignorant that they cannot grasp either the scientific method, nor the discoveries so made feel they have a right to bash away like that.

Intelligent Falling vs The Theory of Gravity!  I love it.

With thanks to Thoughts from Kansas and Pharyngula over at ScienceBlogs.

Home Secretary “bans God from the UK”

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith gets pretty short shrift from me on my other blog, but that’s really about the typical Home Secretary attributes of draconian databases and drug control etc.  She recently banned  a Dutch politician (who had made an anti-Islam film) from visiting the House of Lords, and now a band of loony-tune baptists from Westboro Baptist Church.

Phelps, who runs the Primitive Baptist Westboro church in Topeka, Kansas – most of whose congregation are members of his family, including his 13 children wanted to object to a school in Basingstoke (or as Phelps puts it, Bassingstoke), who planned to stage a play about the murder of a a homosexual.  Phelps and co are real nut-jobs, and have a real hatred of homosexuals.  I hadn’t realised quite how much of a nut-job he is until I saw this video at YouTube:

This is just awesome stuff, particularly the website URLs touted at the end of this insane video.  If he wasn’t preaching such vile hate, this’d be a comedy gem. And in case you are wondering, Phelps does claim that the UK has banned God (hence the title of this post).

(Hat tip to the New Humanist)

See also The Guardian – Anti-gay American cleric banned from UK for inciting hatred

Creationism in Louisiana

One of the exciting things about American politics, it seems to me, is the grass-roots politics.  When visiting Detroit shortly before last year’s Presidential election, it was striking how many public offices are filled by election.  There is a down-side of this, as evidenced by repeated attempts of school boards to enforce teaching of creationism within the science curriculum – it is presumably relatively easy to “pack” school boards with politically and/or religiously motivated individuals.

In January, the State of Louisiana passed a bill to permit teachers to have freedom to teach non-scientific material in school science classes.  This was reported in the Science website on 15th January (Louisiana Creates: New Pro-Intelligent Design Rules for Teachers).  from that article:

Last year, Louisiana passed the Louisiana Science Education Act, a law that many scientists and educators said was a thinly veiled attempt to allow creationism and its variants into the science classroom. On Tuesday, the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted a policy that sharpens those fears, giving teachers license to use materials outside of the regular curriculum to teach “controversial” scientific theories including evolution, origins of life, and global warming. Backers of the law, including the Louisiana Family Forum, say it is intended to foster critical thinking in students. Opponents insist its only purpose is to provide a loophole for creationists to attack the teaching of evolution.

In response to this insidious law, The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology has reversed plans to hold its 2011 annual meeting in New Orleans, and will now hold it in Salt Lake City, Utah (Chronicle of Higher Education blog: Biologists Won’t Meet in Louisiana Because of State Law on Teaching Evolution).  Here is a direct response to laws permitting the teaching of religion (in the shape of creationism and “Intelligent Design”) in science classes.  This seems inappropriate, no matter what one’s religious beliefs may or may not be, and presumably violates the consitutional separation of religion and state (though as a non-American, don’t quote me on that).

With that in mind, it is interesting to read the comments for young earth creationists following that article.  Spectacularly ignorant as these people always are, they focus exclusively on the evolution/atheism vs creationism/religious divide and not on the pedagogical issues, endlessly rehashing the tired old lies and misrepresentations.

So, business as usual in the good old God-fearing USA.  For my part, I’m not convinced that boycotts have much political effect, but it’s good that this action has raised the profile of this appalling law.

The Christian Party

The other day, I blogged about the Christian Party’s latest response to the atheist bus (The Christian Party is still upset by the Atheist bus…), linking this to the bizarre situation regarding the BBC’s “Thought for the Day”.  I noticed from the brief biography of George Hargreaves that he leads the Christian Party, so I moseyed over to their web page for a quick squizz.  And I can’t say this is a political party that should represent a multicultural, multifaith and largely secular society.  I have been unable to identify any policies other than to defend christian beliefs and values (the website is liberally peppered with biblical quotations), and to “resist the tide of secularism and immorality that is destroying our country”.  I think there’s a clear message there that George Hargreaves thinks secularism = immorality. Continue reading “The Christian Party”