Thursday 24 December 2009

Nuts & Reasons gets spammed.

I think this blog has come of age. It has just been spammed by David Mabus.  (See comment to previous post.)

I quote Pharyngula:-

"David Mabus:


Deeply deranged, disturbed individual who believes James Randi has cheated him out of a million dollars, and who vents by spamming websites and email with his angry tirades. Certifiable. Needs immediate mental health care. His real name is Dennis Markuze, and he lives in Montreal, Canada."

Wednesday 23 December 2009

A Seasonal Message

Best Wishes for a Gladsome Yule
& Very Happy New Year

To all my 
Facebook Friends.
Twitter Followers 
& readers of 
Nuts & Reasons & Brighton Bits.

Monday 21 December 2009

A Festive Message . .

. . from the NSS President, Terry Sanderson which seems worth the widest possible UK readership:

This is the time of year when, if even for just a few hours, we can relax and withdraw from the conflicts and frustrations of day to day life. Religious people will tell us it is a wonderful opportunity to sit down and give thanks for the birth of Jesus and Christianity.

But that isn’t always a welcome message, as Christianity begins to show its true face again after a few decades of relative peace and quiet. Once more we can see the intolerance, bigotry and irrationality. These are the real traditions of Christianity, not the soppy sentimental stories that are fed to children in our schools.

Because of the appalling pronouncements and behaviour of “faith leaders” (particularly Pope Ratzinger and his many imitators) more and more people are coming to the conclusion that maybe the birth of Christianity wasn’t, after all, the best thing that ever happened to the human race. Instead, Christmas has become a de facto secular festival.

Already we are being told that half the population is “considering” going to church this Christmas* This happens every year, as the religious propagandists try to convince us that we are still a church-going nation. After the holiday it is usually revealed that something less than 5% actually showed their faces at (a C of E) church over the holiday **. The population of this country prefers to spend its time in the more wholesome atmosphere of home, where true loving feelings reside.

But despite this wholesale rejection of traditional organised religion by the people, the churches are now wielding temporal power the likes of which they have not dreamed of since Victorian times. Faith-based welfare, a religion-dominated education system, millions of pounds poured into suspect religious groups, exemptions from progressive equality and Human Rights legislation – this is religion at its self-serving worst, and most compassionate people detest it.

Opposition is building slowly, but it needs to get itself organised.

We know that there are many people who support the NSS’s aims and objectives, but who don’t join. For instance, people who subscribe to Newsline far outnumber those who commit to membership of the NSS.

And yet, unless these people who often feel passionately about the unwanted encroachment of religion into our lives make the commitment to get organised, the religious steamroller will continue on its journey to flatten our choices and restrict our autonomy.

These last few weeks have seen a huge propaganda push by the religious to firm up their position in the political life of this country. The media seems happy to go along with this, apparently on the assumption that because a few strategically placed bombs in London traumatised the nation for a while, we are all suddenly of the opinion that religion has revived and is at the centre of everyone’s life.

While we know that the traditional places of worship – the Church of England and the Catholic Churches - are declining rapidly, further evidence has emerged this month showing that immigrants are importing their own brands of religion into Britain. They generally take their faith more seriously than the “I’m spiritual but not religious” brigade that makes up the majority of the population in Britain (or the “fuzzy faithful” as they’ve been called).

Muslims from Pakistan and India, Catholics from Poland and evangelical Protestants from Africa and the Caribbean are bringing with them unpleasantly conservative religious beliefs that sometimes shock and repel the majority. They often seem primitive, hysterical, fanatical and alien, full of hatred and intolerance and crazy, senseless rules. Honour killings, violent, sometimes fatal, exorcisms, denial of medical treatment to children on the assumption that prayer will be sufficient, the treatment of women as chattels and the spouting of unvarnished hatred of non-believers, gays and Jews from the pulpits of mosques.

These new religious enthusiasts are still a relatively small minority, estimated at the 4.5 million mark. Among the mainstream population the move continues from indifference to religion to outright hostility to it. Look at the responses to this BBC forum which asked whether religion should be kept out of politics.

The majority of respondents think categorically that religion and politics should be kept well apart, but they do little more than express opinions on internet forums. Meanwhile, the small band of determined believers insinuate their way into ever more aspects of our lives.

The BBC forum question was sparked by comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. In it, Williams said: “The trouble with a lot of government initiatives about faith is that they assume it is a problem, it’s an eccentricity, it’s practised by oddities, foreigners and minorities. The effect is to de-normalise faith, to intensify the perception that faith is not part of our bloodstream.”

He seems to imagine that it is the duty of MPs to put their “faith” at the forefront of their politicking as though it were inevitably a good and benign thing. But as we are increasingly seeing around the world, when religion inserts itself into politics and bids for temporal power it can be repulsive in the extreme. There is an inevitable self-serving quality about religion in politics, and whenever it gains a foothold it isn’t long before demands for privilege ensue and eventually the brutality begins.

But anyway, Dr Williams is completely wrong about this Government. It appears to have developed a kind of religious mania and fallen for this idea that really, underneath all their Godlessness, the British people are really pious and holy. We had hoped that lunacy had gone with Holy Tony, but apparently zeal burns ever brighter at Number 10.

A couple of weeks ago, Gordon Brown organised a tea party at Downing Street for 100 “faith leaders”. At it he said: “I don’t subscribe to the view that we are a secular society and that there is a naked public square. At the centre of our society is a belief that faith has a role in legitimate public debate. There may be controversy over individual issues but Christian values are at the centre of national life.”

The happy clappies present at the meeting then gave up their hallelujahs, and the Reverend Nicky Gumbel, founder and leading light of the evangelical Alpha Course, demanded that everyone present pray for the Prime Minister’s success at the Copenhagen Summit. (Among those present at the shindig was the self-professed atheist, communities minister John Denham who I am sure was happy to pray along with the many and various men of the cloth who were gathered around him, even though he apparently doesn’t believe a word of it. Reportedly he was not the only one squirming at being ambushed into evangelical prayer by Mr Gumbel).

The Reverend Steve (Mr faith-based welfare) Chalke who was, apparently, not at Downing Street on this occasion is, nevertheless, a familiar figure at Number 10. He spends a lot of time there negotiating the Christian takeover of our social services and an expansion of “faith-based education”.

His Oasis Trust has eleven academies in the bag with more in development and, as he will tell you, they have open admissions arrangements, so anyone can attend. However, I am not sure what Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and atheist parents think when they read that the ‘ethos’ of these schools is inspired by the “person and life of Christ”. Can someone explain to me why the taxpayer is shelling out tens of millions of pounds for Mr Chalke to tell captive children that their life is incomplete without Jesus?

The Tories promise even worse, with their Religious Rump already being described as the Tory Taliban.

The NSS’s policies are definitely in line with majority thinking and yet we are unable to get people in large numbers to join together to protect their own principles and rights. Consequently, the religious organisations have no problem raising large amounts of money, bringing together their troops when needed and bringing heavy influence to bear on politicians.

If we are to stop this minority running our lives we really are going to have to unite and make a commitment to pushing back the tide of reaction that religion brings with it. You can join the NSS online or by post with a cheque to NSS, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL.

Why not make it your New Year’s resolution to commit to your own principles and do something more than writing to internet forums about it?

Saturday 12 December 2009

Is Tony Blair God?

We awaken this morning to advance snippets from a forthcoming interview with TB about his religious beliefs. One wonders if, in advance of his appearance at the Chilcot enquiry, this interview is very wise. He appears to be digging himself ever deeper. He is laying open his position and exposing it to early dissection and allowing the preparation of highly tuned questioning. The full interview is due to be screened tomorrow on BBC1 which many of us will watch with great interest. But, subject to that, here is what we have learnt so far:-

  1. TB would have felt it was "right" to go to war to topple Saddam even without WMDs because of the "threat" he posed to the "stability" of the region.
  2. This decision was not informed by his religious faith.
As the British don't approve  of invading foreign countries unless their own security is threatened TB would have known that his only chance to carry his case with the Cabinet and parliament  would have been to concentrate on the WMD. As to the stability of the region, perhaps a country gets the leaders it deserves and a ruthless tyrant such as Saddam was the only option for keeping the lid on the seething internecine tribal rivalries; as witnessed by the post-war violence.

And so, in the admitted absence of any perceived instructions from an Imaginary Magic Friend he took on himself the decision of what was best for the thousands of unconsulted men, women and children who were thereby inevitably condemned to be killed, maimed, and have their property destroyed.

Surely these life & death decisions are those that religious believers usually reserve for their IMFs. Christian believers in particular adopt a range of positions from outright pacifism to the use of minimum force required to prevent greater evils. The greatest evil to come out of Iraq War was the death of the innocents. Thousands are gone who would otherwise have been alive, perhaps not under an ideal government but with at least hope of change; and the best way to help them would have been to work slowly behind the scenes to weaken Saddam's sway or just be ready for his eventual demise.

One is forced to the conclusion that TB believes he is somehow entitled to act in loco deus, and the sincerity of his "faith" is  highly suspect.

Friday 11 December 2009

Help make Tim Minchin Xmas No.1

If you are an atheist and you still enjoy celebrating Xmas, at least you know its because you were conditioned to like it as a child, with presents, stockings, christmas trees, and nice food.
Of course this isn't the same reason for christians at all. (Or so they will insist)

Sunday 6 December 2009

A Question to Tony Blair

You are purported to be earning £15M per year from consultancy and lecture fees. It would be interesting to know how much of this you are donating to help the war-injured children of Iraq.
A figure such as £14,999,999 would seem appropriate.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Thursday 19 November 2009

The Atheist Billboard Campaign

Following the highly successful Atheist Bus Campaign in the UK which sparked similar efforts around the world the British Humanist Association has now launched a Billboard Advertising Campaign based on a Richard Dawkin's aphorism.

This time it is aimed at getting people to think twice before initiating or allowing, the indoctrination of their children with cults of unreason and the accompanying gruesome myths. It has every sign of being another resounding success. The campaign target was set at £30,000 and in the first couple of days 32% of that has already been raised.

Tuesday 17 November 2009

TftD Appeal - BBC Trust Findings


The Sixth Appeal was received on 3 May 2009 and complained about the editorial policy on selecting contributors to Thought for the Day; in particular, the omission of the humanist or atheist voice from among its presenters.
Stage one and two complaints to the BBC Executive
The Sixth Appellant first complained to the Executive by email on 1 January 2009 and was answered by the Controller of Radio 4 on 8 January 2009. The Controller of Radio 4's email repeated the statement made to iPM on 7 January 2009. This stated that he considered it reasonable on balance to continue the slot using religious contributors only. The Controller of Radio 4 explained that broadening the brief of Thought for the Day from Christian and other religions with significant UK membership would detract from the distinctiveness of the slot. He also stated that within Thought for the Day a careful balance is maintained of voices from different Christian denominations and other religions with significant membership in the UK and that non-religious voices are heard elsewhere in Radio 4 output.
The Sixth Appellant replied to Controller of Radio 4 by email on 9 January 2009. She stated that the BBC is disregarding its own guidelines in respect of the Thought for the Day slot and that the slot should embody the principle of balanced broadcasting.

The Sixth Appellant challenged the assertion that the inclusion of an occasional humanist view point would "broaden the brief" and "detract from the distinctiveness of the slot". She also queried whether the Controller of Radio 4 is suggesting that only religious people are spiritual by describing Thought for the Day as a slot intending to offer an "interlude of spiritual reflection".
The Sixth Appellant wrote to the Trust on 9 February 2009; her complaint was referred to the Director of BBC Audio and Music as she had not yet received a stage 2 complaint response. The Director of BBC Audio and Music wrote to the appellant on 21 April 2009 stating that the views expressed by the Controller of Radio 4 were those of the BBC and that he did not believe Thought for the Day to contravene the BBC Editorial Guidelines on bias and impartiality. The Director of BBC Audio and Music referred to the balance achieved across other BBC programming.

Appeal to the Trust
The Sixth Appellant considered that Thought for the Day lacks balance because it excludes humanist and atheist contributors. She is of the view that balance might be achieved by regular inclusion of a humanist voice (and that balance is not achieved by reference to other existing output).
The Sixth Appellant specifically questioned the Executive's approach to achieving balance on two grounds:
a. First, for those who consider humanism as valid as a religious creed balance is self- evidently absent;
b. Secondly, the appellant sees no evidence of balance between the religions currently represented on Thought for the Day.
The Sixth Appellant suggested that balance be quantified, perhaps by identifying the thresholds for participation and how many slots per year this would give entitlement to.
The Sixth Appellant did not accept the justification given by the Executive at stages 1 and 2 of the BBC's complaints process for the exclusion of non-religious voices (and specifically how this might detract from the distinctiveness of the slot).
The Sixth Appellant also queried the way in which her complaint had been handled by the Executive. She noted that no response has been made at stages 1 and 2 to the specific issues that she had raised and queried why the BBC Religion and Ethics department have not responded directly at any stage.

The ESC considered the issues within its terms of reference that had been raised by the Sixth Appellant on appeal and made the following findings:
a. The ESC considered whether the Executive handling of any of the appeals at stages one and two of the complaints process might amount to a breach of the Editorial Guideline on Accountability, the Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of editorial complaints.
The ESC considered that the replies received by the Sixth Appellant at stages one and two of the complaints process had been appropriate and did not find that any breach of the Editorial Guideline on Accountability or procedure for consideration of editorial complaints or of the Complaints Framework had been established in this case.
b. The ESC considered whether the Guideline on impartiality applies to the issues raised by the appellant and, if so, what due impartiality requires in this case.
The ESC found that Thought for the Day is a stand alone strand and a reflection on the issues of the day from a faith perspective. It concluded that Thought for the Day is religious in content The ESC confirmed that the approach to due impartiality had to be adequate and appropriate to such a slot. The ESC found that due impartiality in this context does not require the more rigorous approach to due impartiality expected of news and current affairs. Due impartiality did, however, apply to the slot's content and will vary according to the subject under discussion.
The ESC did not agree that due impartiality requires the inclusion of non-religious contributors in Thought for the Day.
The ESC stated that due impartiality on any given subject matter (and particularly controversial subject matters) should normally be achieved within each Thought for the Day slot or (normally explicitly) across two or three slots. The ESC accepted that in some cases it might be acceptable to meet the requirements of due impartiality on a particular subject by reference to the Today programme as a whole but stated that this would have to be judged on a case by case basis.
The ESC noted the Sixth Appellant's comments regarding thresholds for participation in Thought for the Day but stated that the adoption of such a policy is a matter of editorial discretion for the Executive of the BBC. However, it also noted that the BBC need not necessarily ensure a balance of contributors to Thought for the Day in order to achieve due impartiality.
c. The ESC considered whether Thought for the Day breached any other the Editorial Guidelines?
The ESC did not consider that Thought for the Day breached any other the Editorial Guidelines.
d. The ESC considered whether any remedial action is required in this case>
The ESC did not consider that any remedial action is required in this case.
The ESC stated that it is a question of editorial discretion for the Executive as to whether a slot commenting on an issue of the day from a faith perspective should be featured in BBC programming.

The findings of the GAP regarding the Sixth Appeal
The GAP considered the issues within its terms of reference that had been raised by the Sixth Appellant on appeal and made the following findings:
a. The GAP considered whether the Executive handling at stages one and two of the complaints process in this case might amount to a breach of the Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of general complaints.
The GAP considered that the replies received by the Sixth Appellant at stages one and two of the complaints process had been appropriate and did not find that any breach of Complaints Framework or procedure for consideration of general complaints had been established in this case.
b. The GAP considered whether a slot exclusively for religious contributors is consistent with the Public Purposes.
The GAP found that the Public Purpose requirements and existing underlying Public Purpose Remit and Plan do not limit or prevent the BBC broadcasting religious content that excludes non-religious contributors.
c. The GAP considered whether the Executive is meeting the Public Purpose Remit and Purpose Plan by featuring non-religious content in mainstream programming.
The GAP considered that the BBC's approach to featuring non-religious content and contributors in mainstream programming is consistent with the BBC Public Purpose Remit to reflect religious and other beliefs.
d. The GAP considered whether there had a breach of the Public Purpose.
The GAP concluded there had not been a breach of the Public Purpose in this case.
e. The GAP considered whether any remedial action is required in this case
The GAP did not consider that any remedial action is required in this case.

Monday 16 November 2009

Interfaith Week

Some potent thoughts for Interfaith Week from Dinah commenting on Platitude of the Day for 16th November 2009; "Reverend Canon Doctor Alan Billings":

"To achieve religious toleration there have to be neutral spaces in society such as schools, workplaces, political assemblies and public services where people regardless of their beliefs or non-beliefs can meet on an equal footing: places indeed where religious faith ought to be irrelevant. By continually pushing a religious agenda into such spaces, the government risks fatally undermining this neutrality, and increasing intolerance, because whatever Karen Armstrong thinks, most religions are at heart incompatible.

Billings’s job is to sell Christianity as the one true faith where the only path to salvation is through Jesus Christ. This would be regarded as blasphemy by a Muslim. They can’t both be right (though they could of course both be wrong). Given this, tolerance can only go so far, and can only work when religion is separated from the state and for the most part confined to private spaces.

If Billings and his ilk were serious about promoting religious toleration, they would be avidly promoting secularism, not continually griping about it undermining religion and chipping away at its foundations.

Thanks to the mainly abysmal teaching of history in the UK today few people today learn about the religious intolerance in our past, which makes them easy meat for religious propagandists. By all means have RE in schools, but make it mandatory to include real religion, its history and its dark side with examples from all faiths."

Retaining DNA won't get rid of rape | Lisa Longstaff | Comment is free |

The Home Office has had to reduce the time the police hold the DNA of people not convicted of any crime. But six years is still unacceptably long and it is still unclear how many people's DNA will be kept indefinitely.

We are told that retaining samples helps catch rapists and murderers. But no reliable figures exist on how many violent criminals cleared of one offence were later convicted through DNA.

Despite having the biggest DNA database in the world, the proportion of reported rapes that result in a conviction on the charge of rape in Britain is an abysmal 6.5%. The catalogue of errors in the Worboys and Reid cases had nothing to do with storing DNA but with evidence (including DNA) not gathered, misinterpreted and even lost. Women can be disbelieved, denied protection and urged to withdraw. DNA will never make up for biased and careless investigations and prosecutions.

Yes, DNA can prove innocence as well as guilt. But this can generally be settled by DNA taken at the time – there is no reason to keep it for years. And there are concerns that minorities are overrepresented on the DNA database. Scientists have also warned against the dangers of over-reliance on DNA. We're defending one rape victim who has been arrested for making a false allegation on the grounds that no DNA evidence was found.

Can DNA be abused? We don't know. But mistakes are made, and politicians and police are not always motivated by justice. We have reason to worry that rape investigations may be used to "gather intelligence" not on rape but on anything. We have seen counter-terrorism legislation used for extensive surveillance of peaceful protesters. Parents sending kids to a school outside their area, people who don't clean up dog mess or anyone taking a photo of the police, have also been targeted. Corporations have invoked anti-stalking legislation, supposed to protect women, to get injunctions against lawful protests. And anti-trafficking laws supposed to protect the victims of trafficking are used to deport them.

When police stand accused of repressive behaviour in a number of spheres, while neglecting serious crimes including against women, it would be irresponsible to widen their powers.

For more than 30 years we have stood against attempts – by any party – to manipulate rape survivors' pain in order to attack human rights. When the rights of victims or defendants are undermined, this soon becomes the norm and justice can be denied to anyone. Recent increases in police powers have not benefited rape victims. Sexual violence against women remains pervasive and often unpunished.

In June, meeting with DPP Keir Starmer, we spelled out what should be done to reverse the endemic deprioritising of rape. He wrote to every chief crown prosecutor conveying our concerns. The issue is not the DNA, but the will.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Sunday 15 November 2009

Atheists Lead The Movement To End Poverty

In just over one year the community of Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious (AASFSHNR) at have raised $1 million (USD) in interest-free loans to help end poverty. is a US non-profit organization that connects lenders with borrowers, from around the globe, who need a micro-finance loan. Peter Kroll, the AASFSHNR community team leader, created the community on August 28th, 2008 with the ambition to organize those who share his world view that "people should care about reducing the suffering of other human beings because we acknowledge the evolutionary fact  that we are all one human family."

Kiva's co-founder Matt Flannery has put out his call that "now is a time for the world's privileged to demonstrate to the world's poor just how compassionate and resilient we are." The AASFSHNR community has responded, as well as many other communities and individuals. More than four years after Kiva's founding almost $100 million has been lent worldwide.

Micro-finance is the brain-child of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mohammad Yunus. Yunus realized decades ago, on a visit to a poor village in his country of Bangladesh, that the local people were caught in an endless cycle of debt caused by loan-sharks. He realized what a difference it would make by "removing the barriers faced by the poor so that they can unleash their creativity and intelligence in the service of humanity."

TftD Appeal - update

I have heard from the BBC Trust that the findings of their Appeals Panels which sat on November 5th are going through their processes and are expected to be published shortly.
They have asked for a contact phone number so I presume I shall hear before the press.

It would be interesting to know how many appeals on this subject they were hearing.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Bans & Burqas

With this subject Nuts & Reasons finds itself in something of a quandary. It is not sure which it dislikes most, the burqa or talk of an arbitrary government ban on it. This arises from a recent report in the Daily Telegraph (12/11/2009) which revisits the topic of burqa-wearing in France,  home to the biggest European muslim minority, and the ongoing debate on whether a legal ban is needed to avoid the undermining of the secular state. At least some of the momentum for this topic seems to be provided by Sarkozy's personal dislike of the burqa which he categorises as a sign of women's "subservience" and  "not welcome" in France.  This presumably feeds into the secular state argument because it assumes that  the woman under the veil is actually "subservient" to the extent that she is  unable or unwilling to play her full part in a secular society due to her religious beliefs or family pressures. This assumption may well be justified but banning the veil, as well as being an infringement on the basic liberty to wear what one pleases, would surely not alter a lifetime's indoctrination one whit. 

In France the burqa is already banned in Government Offices, Colleges and Schools. There is surely no objection to this being extended to any employment situation which calls for efficient communication and good relationships with colleagues or members of the public, or on safety grounds where flowing garments or lack of vision could pose a personal danger to the wearer. These are valid reasons. The only state input needed here is to ensure that employers who insist on these conditions would not be liable for court action on the grounds of religious discrimination. Otherwise the state should not interfere.  If, due to cultural pressures, muslim women continue to wear the burqa in other situations against their true inclinations, some other means of intercession should be found. Perhaps for example a targetted government advertising campaign. One hopes that, in any case, the more extreme aspects of immigant islam, exposed to western culture, will gradually wither away with succeeding generations.  In this respect the banning of burqas in schools was surely a significant step. 

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Labour has created 3,600 new offences since 1997 - Telegraph

By Chris Irvine
Published: 7:40AM BST 04 Sep 2008
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, will reveal the statistic as he sets out a fresh initiative to cut crime.
Critics of the new laws blame a government addicted to pushing complicated legislation through Parliament, and keen on grabbing a cheap headline.
A total of 3,605 offences have been introduced since May 1997, an average of 320 a year.
They include 1,238 brought in as primary legislation, which means they were debated in Parliament, and 2,367 by secondary legislation, such as orders in council and statutory documents.
The worst offender is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which has created 852 new offences.
This is followed by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, and its predecessor the Department for Trade and Industry, which between them have created 678 offences.
Meanwhile the Home Office is responsible for 455 offences.
Among some of the more bizarre criminal offences created in the past five years include disturbing a pack of eggs when instructed not to by an authorised officer, or offering for sale a game bird killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day.
Under Tony Blair, Labour introduced 160 new offences in his first year, but in 2003, 493 offences were created.
Mr Huhne said "In what conceivable way can the introduction of a new criminal offence every day help tackle crime when most crimes that people care about have been illegal for years.
"This legislative diarrhoea is not about making us safer, because it does not help enforce the laws that we have one jot. It is about the Government's posturing on punishments."
Here is a list of some of the new criminal offences brought in under Labour:
- Creating a nuclear explosion
- Selling types of flora and fauna not native to the UK, such as the grey squirrel, ruddy duck or Japanese knotweed
- To wilfully pretend to be a barrister or a traffic warden
- Disturb a pack of eggs when instructed not to by an authorised officers
- Obstruct workers carrying out repairs to the Dockland Light Railway
- Offer for sale a game bird killed on a Sunday or Christmas Day
- Allow an unlicensed concert in a church hall or community centre
- A ship's captain may end up in court if he or she carries grain without a copy of the International Grain Code on board

I hope you have all been keeping up. Ignorance of the law is no excuse you know!

Catholic Truth

Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens  won a public debate in London in which they argued against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world". Click here to view.

We’ve had an influx of atheists on our blog recently, following our criticisms of that debate which was inherently hostile to the Church.  One of our new atheist friends challenged us to a one-to-one debate on the same motion, so that this event will be entirely focused on the arguments. Delighted to oblige, lead blogger, Athanasius will represent Catholic Truth.  So, tune into our blog at 6 pm to follow the debate.  Please note that debate is limited to the two named bloggers - other comments welcomed on the ‘Audience’ thread only.  Intrusive comments will be deleted, so please take care to post on the correct thread.

If you go on the website you will see a handy little poll on the bottom RH side of the page. It invites you to vote 'yes' or 'no' to the motion that "The Catholic Church is a force for good in the World"

Thursday 5 November 2009

"Celebrating the 150th Anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species."

This was the title of the meeting on Wednesday 4th. of the Brighton & Hove Humanists Society. Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society gave a rivetting account of the circumstances and the furore that attended the publication of "Origins" and this was followed by an entertaining re-creation (written by Terry) of the historical debate between T.H. Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) and “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce (Bishop of Oxford).  Derek Lennard effectively took the part of Huxley and Terry Sanderson, appropriately attired and with appropriate accents played the Bishop. Keith Porteous-Wood, Director of the NSS, acted as the commentator.  There was some heckling from the audience.

These monthly meetings in the back room of the Lord Nelson have of late been very well attended but this particular one really packed them in. Some late-comers may even have been disappointed. It was encouraging to see a good sprinkling of younger people. Although handily placed the venue is not ideal because of "noises-off". It is a pub after all. If attendances keep up they will have to consider alternatives I think.

Friday 30 October 2009

Islamic countries push a global 'blasphemy' law

A recent article in  the Christian Science Monitor gives a concise description of the latest activities of the Organization of the Islamic Council (OIC) on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR)

Under the leadership of Pakistan, the 57-nation OIC wants to give resolutions against "blasphemy" legal teeth by making them part of an international convention. It proposes "legal prohibition of publication of material that negatively stereotypes, insults or uses offensive language" on matters regarded by religious followers as "sacred or inherent to their dignity as human beings."

If enacted such legislation would be extraordinarily wide-sweeping. We all know that the religious can manifest offence for reasons that, through the eyes of a sceptic, appear quite trivial. The use of the words "negatively", "insult", "offensive", "sacred" and "dignity" would all be subject to whatever interpretation a Government, advised by its "religious followers", would choose to put on them.   How can a religion be criticised even mildly and politely without drawing the charge of negativity? How negative would it have to be before a religious follower felt his dignity was impugned?  The answer is, of course, whatever the religious followers decide. Moreover how would "religious follower" be defined? Would it include scientologists, pagans, pink unicornists and pastafarians and if not why not? Who is to define what is and is not a religion?

As the CSM points out it would effectively be the criminalisation of the expression of ideas as opposed to the defence of human rights and such suppression of speech in the name of religion can come with a negative effect – the suppression of people and theological fault lines that at some point will erupt.  It could also end the freedom to disagree over faith which is precisely the freedom that allows for the free practice of religion.

The US, after years of boycott, has now joined the UNHCR and Hilary Clinton, reported here, encouragingly, has come out strongly against these proposals, stating that, "a person's ability to practice their religion was entirely unrelated to another person's right to free speech" . She went on to argue that "the best antidote to religious intolerance is enforcement of antidiscrimination laws, government "outreach" to minority religious groups, and "the vigorous defense of both freedom of religion and expression."

To an atheist it simply looks as if the Islamic countries are fighting a desperate rearguard action and what they really fear is the exposure of their religion to the searchlight of science, reason & rationality: that this, together with globalisation and rising levels of education and prosperity, will cause their religion to whither and die as have other religions in the prosperous countries of Europe.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

On Faith Panelists Blog: Give us your misogynists and bigots - Richard Dawkins

Give us your misogynists and bigots

What major institution most deserves the title of greatest force for evil in the world? In a field of stiff competition, the Roman Catholic Church is surely up there among the leaders. The Anglican church has at least a few shreds of decency, traces of kindness and humanity with which Jesus himself might have connected, however tenuously: a generosity of spirit, of respect for women, and of Christ-like compassion for the less fortunate. The Anglican church does not cleave to the dotty idea that a priest, by blessing bread and wine, can transform it literally into a cannibal feast; nor to the nastier idea that possession of testicles is an essential qualification to perform the rite. It does not send its missionaries out to tell deliberate lies to AIDS-weakened Africans, about the alleged ineffectiveness of condoms in protecting against HIV. Whether one agrees with him or not, there is a saintly quality in the Archbishop of Canterbury, a benignity of countenance, a well-meaning sincerity. How does Pope Ratzinger measure up? The comparison is almost embarrassing.

Poaching? Of course it is poaching. What else could you call it? Maybe it will succeed. If estimates are right that 1,000 Anglican clergymen will take the bait (no women, of course: they will swiftly be shown the door), what could be their motive? For some it will be a deep-seated misogyny (although they'll re-label it with a mendacious euphemism of some kind, which they'll call 'an important point of theological principle'). They just can't stomach the idea of women priests. One wonders how their wives can stomach a husband whose contempt for women is so visceral that he considers them incapable even of the humble and unexacting duties of a priest.
For some, the motive will be homophobic bigotry, and a consequent dislike of the efforts of decent church leaders such as the Archbishop of Canterbury to accept those whose sexual orientation happens to deviate from majority taste. Never mind that they will be joining an institution where buggering altar boys pervades the culture.
Turning to the motives of the poachers, here we find cause for real encouragement. The Roman Catholic Church is fast running out of priests. In Ireland in 2007, 160 Catholic priests died, while only nine new recruits were ordained. To say the least, those figures don't point towards sustainability. No wonder that disgusting institution, the Roman Catholic Church, is dragging its flowing skirts in the dirt and touting for business like a common pimp: "Give me your homophobes, misogynists and pederasts. Send me your bigots yearning to be free of the shackles of humanity."
Archbishop Rowan Williams is too nice for his own good. Instead of meekly sharing that ignominious platform with the poachers, he should have issued a counter-challenge: "Send us your women, yearning to be priests, who could make a strong case for being the better-qualified fifty percent of humanity; send us your decent priests, sick of trying to defend the indefensible; send them all, in exchange for our woman-haters and gay-bashers." Sounds like a good trade to me.
By Richard Dawkins  |  October 23, 2009; 12:54 AM ET

Monday 26 October 2009

All you need to know about Scientology in 2 minutes.

In an interview with Martin Bashir on ABC's Nightline, Scientologist spokesman Tommy Davis, is questioned about Scientology's "secret" core beliefs. He decides to classify the question as offensive rather than defend, or even admit to these beliefs. Just a two minute video, but doesn't it say it all about Scientology?

Saturday 24 October 2009

"You can be good without God"

A debate, reported here, featuring Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, discussed the merits of the atheist ad campaign with Dan Waugh, pastor of Adult Ministries at the Evangelical Community Church in Bloomington. It contained the following exchange:-

“I’m not against the campaign at all, I welcome it,” Waugh said. “It allows for this debate, it is not a threat.”

The mood changed when Barker asked Waugh a question.

“If God told you to, would you kill me?” Barker asked.

The question drew laughter from the audience and a pause from Waugh.

“If there was a specific verse saying Dan Waugh should kill Dan Barker, then I would have to consider it,” Waugh responded, drawing more laughter and applause from the filled auditorium.

quedula says: One would have liked to know where the debate went after this. Maybe it was just a jokey retort to deflect a difficult question. If serious why would Waugh have even needed to consider for the merest instance whether or not to follow God's command. Perhaps he realises his inbuilt decentness and morality would give him pause. Pause to consider perhaps whether a God that issued such commands really could exist? Yet there is no difference between that God and the God of the Bible which Waugh presumably accepts as God's word.

John McCain vs the Internet

Atheists, comprised as they are of a diverse, widely-scattered group of individuals, rely more on free, unlimited access to the internet for getting their message across and building their movement than any other group I can think of. McCain's so-called "Freedom of the Web" bill has the potential to seriously limit internet freedom and his motives are suspect.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Rethinking Thought for the Day

As reported earlier on this blog the BBC Trust's decision on the future format of "Thought for the Day" is expected on November 5th. In this article the Telegraph reviews recent debates and comments.

Secularists seem to have unearthed a new weapon to wield in the ongoing argument with the BBC and religious lobbyists. The Corporation could be in breach of equality laws if it refuses to make the slot more inclusive. Lawyers have been asked by senior management at the BBC to investigate the claim so that they can advise the trust on whether they would be at risk of facing the fight going to court.

I am sure that secularists feel they are nearing a crucial period in a long-running struggle against what they see as unwarranted bias. They will want to take the struggle as far as they can.

Tuesday 13 October 2009

When is a secret not a secret?

When it's on Twitter.

Last night's injunction served on the Guardian and at least one other national newspaper was meant to stop the papers reporting that the MP Paul Farrelly had tabled a Parliamentary question about the oil traders Trafigura and its solicitors Carter-Ruck. And it succeeded - up to a point . . . read more

Monday 12 October 2009

Index on Censorship - US hypocrisy on free speech at United Nations

08 Oct 2009


The UN Human Rights Council has passed a resolution condemning “stereotyping of religion”. It’s a move that flouts freedom of expression – and it was sponsored by the United States. Roy W Brown reports

The United States has backed a new UN resolution on free expression which would be considered unconstitutional under its First Amendment — which protects freedom of expression and bans sanctioning of religions.

The UN Human Rights Council on 2 October adopted the resolution, which the US had co-sponsored with Egypt. The US had finally joined the Human Rights Council in June, and its support for the measure reflected the Obama administration’s stated aim to “re-engage” with the UN.

While the new resolution focuses on freedom of expression, it also condemns “negative stereotyping of religion”. Billed as a historic compromise between Western and Muslim nations, in the wake of controversies such the Danish Muhammed cartoons, the resolution caused concern among European members.

“The language of stereotyping only applies to stereotyping of individuals, I stress individuals, and must not protect ideologies, religions or abstract values,” said France’s representative, Jean-Baptiste Mattéi, speaking for the EU. “The EU rejects the concept of defamation of religion.”

France emphasised that international human rights law protects individual believers, not systems of belief. But European members, eager not be seen as compromise wreckers, reluctantly supported the measure.

On the other side of the fault line stood the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which lobbied for a measure against “religious defamation”.

“We firmly believe that the exercise of freedom of expression carries with it special responsibilities,” said Pakistan’s delegate, speaking for the OIC. The “defamation” of religion, he said, “results in negative stereotyping of the followers of this religion and belief and leads to incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them, therefore directly affecting their human rights.”

Following the OIC’s logic, one could equally apply the language of the resolution to Islamism, a political form which is arguably a “contemporary manifestation of religious hatred, discrimination and xenophobia. It results in negative stereotyping of the followers of other religions and beliefs and leads to incitement, discrimination, hatred and violence against them, therefore directly affecting their human rights.”

The EU also had other worries. European members felt that the provision in the resolution on “the moral and social responsibility of the press” was objectionable in that it went beyond the limited restrictions set out in article 19, the provision on free expression in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.

Finally, the EU encouraged the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank LaRue, to continue his work. This was an indirect reference to the attacks made against LaRue by several OIC members at the June session of the Human Rights Council. (Read more here)

The Council stopped short of repeating the OIC’s criticisms of the Special Rapporteur but encouraged him to stick to his mandate. That indicates that he should continue to focus on violations of free expression, rather than purported “abuses” of that right.

While this new resolution reflects new efforts by the US to broker compromises between Western and Muslim nations, it also represents an ominous crack in the defences of free expression.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Saturday 10 October 2009

Something for the Creationists . . .

The notion of God as the Creator is wrong, claims a top academic, who believes the Bible has been wrongly translated for thousands of years.

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world -- and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".
The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

Thursday 8 October 2009

'Thought for the Day' Appeal

A bulging ring-binder arrived by special delivery from the BBC Trust today together with a letter confirming that my (and others') appeal about lack of balance in' Thought for the Day' will be heard on 5th November by both the Editorial Standard's Committee and the General Appeals Panel.

The binder contains all the paperwork that will be provided to these two committees and, as one of the appellants, I am invited to comment on the factual accuracy and completeness of the material. Judging by its weight they intend this to be a very thorough job. I feel we are approaching a watershed moment in this long-running dispute.

At this stage the paperwork is confidential but my final letter, which is included, has already been published here.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Cash cuts hit space science - Times Online

BRITAIN could be forced to pull out of the world’s highest-profile physics project, Cern’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC), because of financial failures by a government research council.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has already had to slash university grants, prompting warnings that physics departments may face closure.

Now managers are warning that Britain’s membership of Cern, based in Geneva, is also threatened, along with its involvement in global astronomy projects.

Richard Wade, chief operating officer at the STFC, said: “We may now have to reconsider our memberships of international partnerships including Cern.”

The warning comes as scientists prepare the £2 billion LHC to start next month on its first investigations into the constituents of matter.

Further cuts being considered by Wade could see British astronomers pulled out of the Alma radio telescope in northern Chile and the twin Gemini telescopes, in Hawaii and Chile. Gemini is designed to look 14 billion years back into the past, close to when the first light was emitted.

The STFC has already announced 25% cuts for universities and has failed to post grant cheques.

Andy Parker, head of the high-energy physics group at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory, said: “The people who pushed through the creation of STFC and those who have led it are turning a thriving area of UK science into a basket case.”

Are there any government agencies that succeed? The Learning & Skills Council went bottom-up a few months ago.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Thursday 1 October 2009

The Holy Spirit is SO real!

All us unfortunate atheists should watch this 2 minute video to be able to fully appreciate what we are missing by our
stubborn rejection of Invisible Magic Friends.

Monday 28 September 2009

Atheists examine Christmas from angel-free angle | World news | The Guardian

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and evolutionary biologist. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/Murdo Macleod

It is a book about Christmas but there's not a manger, virgin birth or angel in sight.

Buoyed by the success of their campaign which proclaimed There's Probably No God, Now Stop Worrying on the side of London buses, some of Britain's most prominent atheists have come together to publish a book for the festive season.

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas features contributions on the theme of Christmas and God by scientists Richard Dawkins, Simon Singh and Adam Rutherford, agony aunt Claire Rayner, pop star Simon Le Bon, illusionist Derren Brown and Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker.

Due for publication this Friday, the book is already ranked at number 40 in the chart compiled by online retailer Amazon and could be a surprise bestseller.

Brooker asks whether a notional God would have a sense of humour, while there also chapters on the Hadron Collider and A Guide to Turning Your Home Into A Festive Something That Is So Bright It Can Be Seen From Space.

Writer Ariane Sherine, who masterminded and launched the atheist bus campaign on a Guardian Comment is Free post, said she was daunted by the idea of writing a book by herself, so enlisted the help of friends and supporters. "Virtually all the comedians I know are atheists and Richard Dawkins was very involved with the bus campaign," she said.

Half of the profit will be donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust, the charity that deals with HIV issues. "Given some of the comments the Pope made earlier this year about condoms and Aids, we thought it was appropriate," Sherine said.

She denies the book is anti-Christmas: "I wanted to make it clear that it's a friendly, quite a happy book. I've sent it to some of my religious friends. The book is not just about being atheist – there's a chapter on how to get on with relatives and ideas for party games."

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

Sunday 27 September 2009

Wonderful Robert Ingersoll

BNP leader is Question Time guest (From The Argus)

4:42pm Sunday 27th September 2009

British National Party leader Nick Griffin is to take part in a televised debate with Justice Secretary Jack Straw on BBC1's Question Time, it has been confirmed.

The announcement came after Mr Straw became the first senior Labour politician to say that he was willing to appear on the show with Mr Griffin.

The BBC have confirmed the two men are among the panellists booked for a recording of the show, hosted by David Dimbleby, in London on October 22.

The BBC sparked controversy earlier this month when it announced that it would be willing to feature representatives of the BNP on Question Time after the party won two seats in the European Parliament in elections in June.

Labour reviewed its long-standing approach of refusing to share a platform with the far-right BNP and Gordon Brown made clear he was ready to allow a minister to take on Mr Griffin, now an MEP for the North West of England.

But Cabinet ministers such as Peter Hain and Alan Johnson said they would not go on Question Time if the BNP leader was invited.

Mr Straw told BBC1's The Politics Show North-West edition: "Wherever we have had BNP problems in my area and when we have fought them hard, we've pulled back and won the seats back. And that's what we have to do. We've got to make the argument for people and I am delighted to do so."

Anti-fascists campaigners reacted with anger to the news and called for huge demonstrations to be mounted outside the BBC TV studios when the programme is made.

Tony Kearns, assistant general secretary of the Communication Workers' Union said it was a "disgrace" that the BBC was going ahead with offering the BNP a seat on Question Time despite a huge outcry in recent weeks.

Other members of the panel have not yet been confirmed.

Posted via web from quedula's posterous

quedula says: if they can allow Nick Griffin on "Question Time" how can they not allow atheists on "Thought for the Day"?

Friday 25 September 2009

Science, where Religion goes to die!

A nice collage by Kyo Hanakara

Does God exist?

For an atheist the answer to this endlessly recurring question is that it depends on how one defines 'god'. The only definition an atheist can accept is that 'god' is simply a three-letter word for what remains a mystery to us about existence. This is sometimes called "the god of the gaps". One can't say that this 'god' does "not exist" either as a three-letter word or as a convenient synonym for the matters not yet explained by science. Inasmuch as we do not know that there are no natural limits to the scope of scientific enquiry it is even possible that this 'god' may be eternal.

Believers should please note that this is an entirely different thing from saying that there exists any supernatural being that has ever had any interest whatsoever in the human race, or ever will have, will ever make his existence known, or whose existence we shall ever prove or disprove.

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Muslims mass-producing children to take over Africa, says Archbishop -Times Online

One of the most powerful figures in the Anglican Church believes that Africa is under attack from Islam and that Muslims are “mass-producing” children to take over communities on the continent.

Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, 56, was elected Primate of Nigeria last week and his elevation could exacerbate tensions at a time when Anglicans are working to build bridges with Muslims. Dr Michael Nazir-Ali resigned as Bishop of Rochester earlier this year to work in countries where Islam is the majority religion.

Nigeria is split almost half and half between Christianity and Islam. There are about 17 million practising Anglicans in the country, but they face persecution in the north, while the two faiths vie with local religions for supremacy in the rest of the country.

Archbishop Okoh made his controversial comments about Islam in a sermon in Beckenham, Kent, in July. He said that there was a determined Islamic attack in African countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.

“They spend a lot of money, even in places where they don’t have congregations, they build mosques, they build hospitals, they build anything.

“They come to Africans and say, ‘Christianity is asking you to marry only one wife. We will give you four!’ ” Archbishop Okoh described this as “evangelism by mass-production”.

He said: “That is the type of evangelism they are doing: mass-production, so if you have four wives, four children, sixteen children, very soon you will be a village.”

Africa was “surrounded by Islamic domination,” he said, and he urged Christians to speak out now or lose the authority to speak. “I am telling you, Islam is spending in Uganda and in other places, it is money from the Arab World,” he claimed, accusing Christians of abdicating their responsibilities. “Who is the leader in the Christian world? There is no leader.”

One senior member of Britain’s Muslim community said: “The views presented by the Archbishop are extremist and overwhelmed by Islamophobia and his elevation will certainly foster misunderstanding and extremism. Knowing the communal geography of Nigeria, he will be a massive danger to community relations and cohesion in his country, besides places like London.”

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