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."

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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.

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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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Monday 21 September 2009

Jehovah's Witnesses come knocking

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Tim Minchin - Storm

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Darwin's theory of evolution: does it destroy the foundations of Christianity? - Telegraph

Published: 3:13PM BST 04 Sep 2009

David Quammen

Science writer, academic and author of The Reluctant Mr Darwin

In the age we inhabit, everyone seems to feel free to place his or her own definition upon the word “Darwinism.” Evolution means, for many, what they want it to mean – whether they take themselves to be for it, or against it.

Answers to the question “Is Darwinism compatible with religion?”, therefore, vary with the chosen definitions of “Darwinism” and “religion.”

So, let’s be specific. Is the idea of evolution by natural selection – that is, changes in gene frequency yielding adaptation and diversity, sculpted by differential reproductive success upon randomly varying populations – compatible with, say, Christian theology?

My thought is: no. This has nothing to do with the matter of whether God exists. This question challenges not the existence of God but the supposed semi-divinity of Man.

Christian theology, as I understand it, holds that Man (by which I mean, of course, not a gender but the species Homo sapiens) is created in the image and likeness of God, with an immortal soul utterly different in its responsibilities and its potentialities from any spiritual essence possessed by an orchid, a barnacle, a tortoise, or a chimpanzee.

Darwinism, as propounded by Darwin, holds, contrarily, that Man is not unique, not disjunct from nature, but continuous with it, evolved from primate ancestors by natural selection upon random variations. Darwin himself saw the irreconcilability of these two views, I believe; saw it with excruciating clarity.

There is no other explanation for the dyspeptic tensions and pinched discretions he manifested in his life as a scientist, a Victorian squire and a husband. Personally, I take his lead on this. I venerate his reluctant materialism.

If he found himself unable to be a theistically relaxed Christian evolutionist, who am I to say his discomfiture was frivolous and unnecessary? He recognised: these cogs do not mesh.

George Pitcher

Religion editor, Telegraph Media Group

Those, such as Professor Richard Dawkins, who try to co-opt Charles Darwin as a cheerleader for atheism don’t just do Darwin a disservice: they also undermine the status of the science that they revere with almost religious fervour.

The idea that reason is the polar opposite of faith is only a relatively recent, post-Enlightenment development in human history. A more consistent historical narrative is that science and theology are partners in exploring the nature and fulfilment of the human condition.

As Darwin recognised, setting them against each other is a category error. You might as well argue over whether Mozart or Brunel contributed more to humanity.

Whatever the nature of Darwin’s own spiritual journey, he’s no knockout champion for atheists. But just as they don’t own him, nor do creationists own Genesis. As Darwin would be the first to acknowledge, life’s a lot more complicated than that.

Terry Sanderson

President, National Secular Society

Darwin has delivered a fatal blow to religion. What we are seeing now are its death throes, with the creationist movement desperately trying to convince the world and, I suspect, itself, that the biblical explanation of creation is anything other than a metaphor and a myth.

The founder of the National Secular Society, Charles Bradlaugh, who was a contemporary of Darwin, once said: “No man sees a religion die.” But religions do die, and their corpses are scattered throughout history.

Christianity in Britain was already losing its grip by the time Darwin published On the Origin of Species. His theory of evolution simply accelerated the already existing decline.

Colin Humphreys

Goldsmiths Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge University, and past chairman of Christians in Science

Central to my beliefs, as a scientist and as a Christian, is that the God who created all life is the same God as he who reveals his creation to us through scientific study.

Science shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that our world is very old and that life has emerged over millions of years. Hence, this is the timescale over which God has created life on Earth. It follows that the early chapters of Genesis should not be interpreted literally.

There are strong clues to back this up within the Genesis creation story itself. For example, there is a serpent that talks, and there is a “tree of life”, both clearly symbolic.

Thus, there is no conflict between Darwin and Christianity: evolution is the way God chose to carry out his creation. If life emerged from a primeval soup, then God was the master chef.

Tony Watkins

Managing editor of for Christian educational charity Damaris

American philosopher Daniel Dennett calls evolution by natural selection “Darwin’s dangerous idea” because he thinks it undermines religion. It really doesn’t. It may explain mechanisms, but it says nothing about meaning.

So it cannot solve biology’s most fundamental problem, which is the origin of life itself (and neither can theories of life coming from space - that just relocates the problem). Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here?

Why do we intuitively feel that it matters – that we matter? If your starting point is “God cannot exist”, the only explanatory tools available to you are accidents and evolution, so you must make them account for absolutely everything.

But what if there is a God? There are strong reasons for believing so, and it changes one’s perspective on everything. It means that life itself, and especially, human life, has meaning at a very profound level.

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God Told Him to Kill My Family and Me! A Death Threat at Proud Atheists « Proud Atheists

I have received this threatening comment in response to this blog article, Our First Anniversary. The spam blocker caught this comment. That’s why it’s not in the article comments. However, this person has sent harassing replies which are in my Hate Comments page on the upper right under the Proud Atheists banner.

(No photo avatar)

Gabriel Tanejo
Submitted on 2009/09/20 at 6:39pm

Yes, happy first and LAST anniversary.

Your sins are too mighty to repent for, our Father will send you all to hell when you die! I will hack into this website and destroy it; and find your personal information too, so I can blow up your house—but your destiny is so fucked up that I don’t know why I would bother! I may, however, hunt down your friends and family and slaughter them—that would cause you great pain, would it not? I have gotten signs from God that approve of doing this to all fucking atheists! Someday you may find a gun at your head, or cyanide in your drink, or a grenade in your home—but I will kill you, make no mistake! The sooner you go to your eternal punishment, the better!

I did an IP address location lookup and found that Mr. Tanejo is located at:
Country: United States
State/Region: CA
City: Fremont
Latitude: 37.567
Longitude: -121.9829
Area Code: 510

Please pass this story along!

The FBI will be contacted after posting this message.

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To such heights of evil are men driven by religion ~ Lucretius

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Sunday 20 September 2009

Jesus and Mo » Archive » dust

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St Therese of Lisieux: come out, atheists, and fight | Matthew Parris - Times Online

If I believed in a God, I would be thanking Him now for sending me a sign. In yesterday’s newspaper arrived a story to rekindle my atheism.

Just when my disbelief was flagging — not for want of certainty but out of weariness with banging on — comes a report that energises me with anger. The relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century Roman Catholic nun, have arrived in Britain for a month-long tour of England and Wales.

What? And we’re reporting this deadpan — and not in the Wacky World pages of light magazines? “Organisers said that the arrival of the casket, containing pieces of her thigh and foot bones, was likely to attract hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.” I’m sorry: “pilgrims”? Isn’t the word “dupes”? Does balanced reporting require neutrality even towards the self-evidently preposterous? Would a conference of the Flat Earth Society get giggle-free treatment on the news?

The faithful will apparently be bringing roses, to be blessed by proximity to the bones. According to the BBC, the relics are thought to possess supernatural powers to promote reconciliation and were taken to Iraq; but it didn’t work. The casket will be visiting “28 centres of prayer”, including many Roman Catholic cathedrals. How can bishops sanction this paganistic nonsense? I had been wondering whether Richard Dawkins’s critics were right to complain that his atheism was intolerant; whether we atheists were wrong to rage with such certitude about what is really only an absence of belief. But these relics have performed a miracle: they have re-inspired in me a fiery conviction. We non-believers must rage, insist, proclaim

For pity’s sake, closet atheists of Britain, come out! Don’t “respect” this credulous folly! Don’t let the madnesses of these faith minorities go by default! Stop our politicians kowtowing to nutters! Cease the embarrassed muttering about being “don’t knows” on religion, and shout it out. We do know! It isn’t true! All that is necessary for the triumph of religion is that disbelievers should do nothing. God speed to this ludicrous casket of bones; they have reminded me of an eternal truth: agnosticism is not enough.

quedula says:- But is this all that surprising? Consider the superstitious beliefs that are credited with religious 'respectability' everyday. In the mass, the fundamental rite of the Christian Church, the faithful are invited to pretend that biscuit and wine represent the body and blood of a largely imaginary figure purportedly done to death 2100 years ago.

See also "Degrees of Superstition".

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Origin of Stupidity

This is a response to the proposal by creationists to issue free copies of Darwin's "Origin of Species" to schools with a 50 page introduction about nutty creationist theories.

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Noam Chomsky on Health Care

Basic commonsense about the crazy US system.

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Friday 18 September 2009

Health Advice - "Pray every day"

This was the advice given by the "Most Rev." Vincent Nichols in his first official ramblings as Archbishop of Westminster. He was also very stern about ambition, favouritism and hypocrisy. Can you believe it? Coming from someone who has just attained the highest office in this country that the still enormously wealthy catholic church can offer!! Can he not see the irony?

However he doesn't specify what one should pray for, so I commented that I would "try praying to be rid of these tiresome godbotherers and their daisy-tripping sycophants", and; that I was "sure it would do wonders for my mental health" at least.
By "daisy-tripping" I was referring to the Times religion correspondent, Ruth Gledhill, who welcomed Nichols's "near-triumphant start to his service". I don't know exactly what signifies this triumph as she goes on to admit that it has yet to be translated into bums on pews. See here.

However, I was apparently too rude as my comment hasn't been posted.

Tuesday 15 September 2009

"White Flight"

I regard "White Flight", i.e. the tendency of the indigenous population of a neighbourhood to move out as immigrants move in, not as a cause of division in but as a symptom of past uncontrolled immigration. A symptom of the failure of middle class politicians safely ensconced in the Home Counties to put the interests of the indigent, working class population above political expediency.

Who are they/we, to wag a disapproving finger at others, living under different circumstances, probably in the same area all their lives, as have their parents and grandparents before them; and suddenly (comparatively), finding their neighbours are people who do not speak english and do not share interests or social activities, prefer to up-sticks for more familiar surroundings?

Are not there perfectly legitimate grounds for vehement protest at this situation? Not protest about refugees in fear of their lives, but about economic immigrants who apparently have no interest in embracing our mores and culture but are merely intent on enjoying a standard of living that their own religious culture has denied them in their native lands. Yet they bring their culture & religion with them!

Over the centuries our ancestors have strived & suffered too. They learnt from their mistakes and adapted. They had no short-cuts. Those that emigrated did it out of dire necessity to virgin lands where no one provided a free lunch. Because of that history we are where we are, enjoying a reasonable degree of prosperity in a largely secular modern society. Why should we have to welcome a religion and culture still rooted in the past that has manifestly failed to provide the same?

Saturday 12 September 2009

Harlan Ellison on God

3 Minutes 34 seconds of down-to-earth commonsense.

Harlan Ellison, born 1934, is an award-winning American science-fiction writer best know for the anthologies, "Dangerous Visions" and "Again, Dangerous Visions".

Thursday 3 September 2009

Assisted Dying - what is legal and what is not?

This was the title of an excellent talk given by Dr Michael Irwin at the Brighton & Hove Humanist Society on Wednesday evening. Dr. Irwin provided an interesting review of the history and the current situation as it exists internationally and in the UK. Other countries, e.g. Netherlands, and Switzerland, have tackled the ethical problems, and the legal frameworks they have established appear to be working satisfactorily.

Dr Irwin is currently under arrest (but bailed until Sept.30th.) for assisting in a suicide at the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland. The total cost of a suicide at Dignitas is estimated to be £4500. Dr Irwin donated £1500 towards this sum and accompanied the terminally-ill patient and his partner to Switzerland. On their return the partner was arrested but Dr Irwin had to challenge the police to arrest him which they eventually did.

The recent legal victory by Debbie Purdy (the MS sufferer) in the House of Lords means that the DPP now has to issue a policy on prosecuting these cases. Whether this policy survives the public consultation period in any helpful form remains to be seen. It is estimated that as many as 34 UK patients are currently waiting to travel to Dignitas. Certainly as long as the present British fudge exists it is only the wealthier Britons that will have any choice in the matter of their ending.

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Comment is Free - or is it?

A few days ago the Guardian ran an article "What sport suits which belief?" sparked by the publication of a book by a french buddhist on the spiritual benefits of petanque.

As this was in the "Open thread" series it goes on to invite comments by asking "But what sports suit other faiths?

"Fly fishing is no good for vegetarians, but is just about perfect for contemplative carnivores. The extraordinary number of Jewish grandmasters suggests that chess is a natural fit with Judaism. Atheists might prefer shooting fish in a barrel. But who would be best suited by cricket? Football? Poker? What's the sport for Plymouth Brethren? Suggestions, please."

A fellow blogger, the anti-theist, promptly posted the following jokey comment which seems entirely to suit the mood of the thread:-

"Islam could be compared to WWE wrestling:
1. Both blatantly made up;
2. Men are allowed to hit women;
3. What they wear is unnecessary;
4. Every argument ends in violence (or at least threats of violence);
5. Neither will accept homosexuals."

The comment was equally promptly removed by the guardian moderator.

Surely this was a gross over-reaction? What exactly is the matter with the comment? Isn't every statement either arguable or can be found in the Koran? Even were it overly blunt and exaggerated isn't that the very essence of comedy? Isn't stuff like this, and much worse, aimed everyday at other religions, other stereotypes? What is so special about Islam that it must have its sensibilities ring-fenced in this way?

If it is considered desirable that a minority religious group should gain acceptance and integration in the community, such marginal suppression of free comment will surely be counterproductive. On the one hand it engenders in the host population a sense of grievance that their free speech is being suppressed in the interests of an over-precious minority: in the muslim community it must reinforce a sense of apartness from the general population and encourage the isolationists in their midst.