Monday, February 27, 2012

Quite good, quite good…

See it all here.

I can’t quite agree with the last panel.  Not that everyone on the Internet is a Jerk, that’s pretty clear, but my last word on the matter would be different.

The problem is not that the pastor doesn’t understand why we’re jerks about it, it’s that he doesn’t understand that for the most part, we’re not being jerks at all. 

The offense he takes at our antics are due mostly to loss of privilege.  They’re used to unearned politeness so when we refuse to capitulate, they see it as a scurrilous attack by contrast. 

They’ve had a pretty good run of it and can’t really complain now the gig is up.  So my final reply would probably be quite a lot more childish.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Marcie, get out of here, YOU’RE DEAD! You don’t exist any more.

I know I’ve written about this before and so has virtually everyone else, but there’s a vicarious joy in seeing other people discover it which is almost irresistible. Recently, new people have been caused to witness it in all its glory for the first time and their blank incomprehension and ridicule cheered me up.  I’m talking about a Chick Tract, of  course, and while I could have picked virtually any one to ridicule, this is one of my favourites:

Fantasy role-playing games lead to occult worship and actual real magical powers!  If only I’d known that when I played those games. THINGS WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT.

If I’d know that D&D was INTENSE OCCULT TRAINING, I’d probably have put more hours in.

My excuse from now on whenever anyone asks me to do anything is definitely going to be “I can’t, I’m fighting the zombie.”

I love the suicide note too: I love the way Marcie signs it to avoid confusion over which suicide in the vicinity it referred to.  Maybe people who leave suicide notes do that, I don’t know, but I always expect to see some kisses after the signature.  And who is holding the note, anyway?  Nobody in the story has sleeves like that.

I also find it interesting that Debbie’s first spell is one to control her father.  Do you think the real terror is showing here?  And of course it’s a male who saves Debbie from her destructive life by ordering her to go to a meeting and then another male who saves her very soul.

The final scene is fantastic.  Where did they get all that D&D stuff? It’s huge bonfire! There must be a tonne of stuff in there!  And the preacher bloke seems to be worshipping the fire. Confusing.

Fantastic.  Here’s another brilliant one.

The dark forces of skepticism: president of the BCA talks about the Simon Singh case

In 2009 the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) sued Simon Singh for libel.  Simon wrote a piece in the Guardian which included the following passage:

The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.

He then went on to explain exactly why he was confident in calling these treatments “bogus”.

The BCA really didn’t like that word “bogus” and much of the trial centred on what it means.  Simon could have backed down.  The UK libel laws are such that even winning a case could incur very large costs to be paid by the defendant!  It was at considerable risk and with a great deal of bravery, then, that Simon chose to defend himself rather than retracting the “bogus” and apologising.

Simon eventually won the case and along the way generated a huge amount of global attention to the fact that UK libel laws are in such need of reform.  The Libel Reform Campaign has achieved significant success and reform seems to be underway.

Now the president of the BCA, Richard Brown, has spoken about the affair which is reported here.  He says some….astonishing things. For example, there’s this:

In a move largely unexpected by many, rather than sue the newspaper, the BCA sued Simon Singh personally for libel.In doing so, the BCA began one of the darkest periods in its history; one that was ultimately to cost it financially,reputationally and politically.

At first glance, this looks as though Brown is admitting that suing Simon rather than the Guardian was cowardly, hostile and a blatant attempt to silence a critic rather than writing a wrong.  It looks as though he regrets the decision and feels that the BCA is poorer for having made it.  But read on and it’s clear he’s not saying that at all.  The ‘dark period’ refers to the fact that they lost and the hullabaloo that surrounded the case.

The action galvanised the UK and world media. Never before had the
media focused its attention so much on the profession, nor had been given the opportunity to subject it to so much vitriol.

See how he considers himself and his profession the victims here? He’s barely getting started along that route.

With what they saw as one of their own being hauled over the legal coals amidst claims of an assault on free speech, an army of scientists, sceptics and comedians was mobilised to disgrace, degrade and demolish the chiropractic profession. Cabinet ministers, BB C journalists and erstwhile Members of Parliament also joined the fray, determined to pitch in and use the case to reform what they claimed were Britain’s draconian libel laws.

It’s curious, isn’t it, that believers always think that criticism is necessarily orchestrated and coordinated?  I have an alternative explanation: people were interested in it. Everyone suddenly realised how insane UK libel laws are, which is an interesting and outrageous thing to learn.  At the centre of the kerfuffle were medical claims which might be false, which is also interesting and outrageous. If the Daily Mail has taught us anything, it’s that people are interested in medical stories, Plus, of course, there was a freedom of speech issue: the reason the BCA sued Simon instead of the Guardian was that they (wrongly) thought they could scare him into capitulation, because they thought he wouldn’t have the resources to fight the case, even if he thought he’d win.  So the BCA was using the law strategically to shut down criticism of Chiropractic. If they’d won, would it mean that nobody could criticise bogus claims again? People are interested in that kind of stuff.  It really wasn’t a concerted attack on Chiropractic which, frankly, nobody really cares very much about.

In using the case as a powerful vehicle to promote his Sense About Science campaign, Singh’s crusade mobilised a dark force of UK sceptics who suddenly found their raison d’etre, shifting their
attention from the fairy tales of homeopathy to the cure-all claims of chiropractors.

We’re a dark force?  AWESOME.  We’d already found our raison d’etre, of course.  We’re skeptics.  We’re against bogus claims because we’re for reason and because we’re against people getting hurt by fantastical medical claims. I won’t say it wasn’t fun rattling Chiropractor’s cages, but it was a drop in the ocean of what we do every day.

Following a call to action, an army of PC pilots and laptop lizards began a war which was to lead to one in three UK chiropractors facing formal disciplinary proceedings from its regulator, the General Chiropractic Council.

It’s interesting that Brown seems to think a ‘call to action’ is a bad thing.  Is he blaming Simon specifically?  Simon certainly became the centre of a movement for libel reform and a lot of us wanted to help with his case.  He spoke at events like TAM London (standing ovation) and wrote about his case in various places.  I suppose this could be considered a call to action, although I don’t recall him actually asking anyone to take any specific action. It’s also interesting that he thinks we started the ‘war’.  But more distasteful to Brown seems to be the fact that those new-fangled computers were involved.  As well he might: someone (unfortunately I don’t remember who) wrote some software which searched Chiropractic websites for claims they are not allowed to make and reported violations to the General Chiropractic Council.

Brown seems to take particular outrage in this.  He sees those Chiropractors who were making illegal claims as somehow being the victims and appeals for sympathy toward those Chiropractors because of the stress they faced.

The GCC faced fitness to practice hearings on a scale previously unknown in the healthcare regulatory world.

Yes, because there were genuine complaints!

Chiropractors were under assault. As the process rumbled on, and Singh crowed from the rooftops following a favourable judgment in the Court of Appeal, one in three chiropractors was facing the misery of prolonged formal regulatory proceedings.

Brown really doesn’t seem to get the point that it is the purpose of a regulatory board to rule on complaints.  The complaints made were not (at least for the most part) trivial.  They were genuine complaints against illegal claims.

Following a robust legal defence mounted by the BCA on behalf of its
members, over 91% of the allegations against chiropractors were dismissed as being not proven.

Brown is being somewhat disingenuous here.  As the complaints began to arrive, the BCA sent out warning emails to its members, which were leaked.  They warned members to take down their sites immediately, remove the dodgy claims and any leaflets in their waiting rooms that might make sure claims.  So I’m sure that by the time the GCC came to rule on the matter, the sites would be clean.

Brown then reflects on the case’s impact on the profession.  He blames a schism between the ‘good’ Chiropractors who use science and evidence (who are they, exactly?) and the old-school woo-based ones.

It is no longer good enough in 2011 for us to expect chiropractic to survive on outdated dogma.

But it was good enough before?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The resurrection did too happen

Ah Easter-time. Never mind the business with the pancakes and chocolate, we all know the true story of Easter, don’t we? Jesus died for our sins, of course.  Or rather, for the vicarious sins of Adam and Eve which God foisted on every human since in a fit of childish pique. And Jesus died to wash those sins away. I don’t know how that’s supposed to work or why it was needed. If God wanted to cancel original sin, couldn’t he just have gone right ahead and done it? 

And then Jesus cheated by coming back to life after 3 days. Or was it 2 days and 2 nights (John 20:1)?  Or 3 days and 2 nights (Luke 24:1, Mark 16:2, Matthew 28:1)?  All of which, by the way, contradict Jesus’ own statement in (Matthew 12:40) that he’d be dead for 3 days and 3 nights.

Then Mary and Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and an angel rolled away the stone (Matthew 28:1-2).  Unless it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome and the stone had already been rolled away (Mark 16:1-4). Or perhaps it was Joanna and an unnamed woman rather than Salome (Luke 24:10).  Or then again, perhaps it was just Mary Magdalene by herself (John 20:1).

Mary both touches Jesus (Matthew 28:9) and is simultaneously not permitted to touch him (John 20:17). Once Mary has finished at the tomb, she runs to tell the disciples the good news (Matthew 28:8, Luke 24:9, John 20:18) although to be fair she also says nothing to anyone because she's afraid (Mark 16:8).

When the disciples arrive at the tomb, there’s an angel there, having a nice sit down outside (Matthew 28:2) who tells them to hurry to Galilee (Matthew 28:6-7). However, there was also no angel, just a young man sitting inside the tomb (Mark 16:5). At the same time, there were actually two men, who were standing up and who specifically tell the disciples not to leave Jerusalem (Luke 24:49). Of course, what really happened was that the first time Mary visited the tomb, it was empty, but then she came back and there were two seated angels who only told her not to cry.  Then Jesus himself – not the angel/s or young men – told her about the resurrection and nobody gets told to go anywhere (John 20:13-17).

Jesus then appears to a widely differing cast of characters in a bewildering range of locations either 2, 3 or 5 times including either the 11 surviving disciples or 12 disciples (even though Judas was already dead). Or, according to John, 10 disciples, since of course Thomas wasn’t there.

So now you know the story of the resurrection, by far the most important event in the New Testament.  We know it’s true because of all the detailed accounts in the Bible.  And we know all the accounts are simultaneously true despite being entirely contradictory because (II Timothy 3:16) says that the Gospels are the revealed word of God and therefore absolutely correct in every detail.

Monday, February 20, 2012

This happened: The sins of the Fathers

On 18th February, Richard Dawkins reported a curious conversation with Adam Lusher of the Sunday Telegraph, who called him to ask some questions.

At the end of a week of successfully rattling cages, I was ready for yet another smear or diversionary tactic of some kind, but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined the surreal form this one was to take.

Richard had good reason to suspect a diversionary tactic: critics had been at it all week.  The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason released the results of an Ipsos/MORI poll into the attitudes of members of the UK public who call themselves Christians. The poll showed that these attitudes tend to differ greatly from those of the lobbyists who claim to speak for them.  This upset a lot of Christians who – unable to argue with the figures, launched ad-hominem attacks against Richard himself.  For example, one of the questions in the poll asked Christians to name the first book of the New Testament (Matthew) from a selection of four.  39% of Christian polled didn’t know. 

The response to this of former canon chancellor of St, Paul’s in London, Giles Fraser, was to ask Richard on Radio 4 whether he could name the full title of Origin. He said he could, then:

“‘On The Origin Of Species’ … Uh. With, Oh God. ‘On The Origin Of Species.’ There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

Which is pretty close.  However, it was leaped on by various idiots as ‘deeply embarrassing that he couldn’t remember the exact title and he invoked the name of a deity!

For example, here, here and here.

So Richard was expecting something along these lines.  But instead Adam Lusher had researched Richard’s family background and discovered that his great, great, great, great, great grandfather had owned slaves and he wanted to know ig Richard felt guilty about it. He replied:

“Your ancestors probably did too. It’s just that we happen to know who my ancestors were and perhaps we don’t know yours.”

He also quoted from Numbers 14:18 about the sins of the father being visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation before ending the call to get back to work. 

Almost immediately, Lusher interrupted him again with another call, during which he suggested that since natural selection has a lot to do with genes, Richard might have inherited a slavery-supporting gene from his ancestor

I’m sure there’s no need to go into the patent stupidity of this idea except to say it amounts to a defamatory suggestion that Richard might support slavery with evolution to blame, naturally).  But Lusher wasn’t finished: his next suggestion was that Richard should pay reparation for the actions of his ancestors.

Richard was left feeling it was highly likely that this nonsense would be killed by any vaguely decent editor.  But the Telegraph did indeed print it.  Then the Daily Mail printed the same story with, naturally, some of the detail cut out.  The article also includes this charming image:

Ancestors of Richard Dawkins are believed to have been linked to slavery

with the caption:

Ancestors of Richard Dawkins are believed to have been linked to slavery

It’s worth noting that these articles have been widely condemned, even in the comments on the Daily Mail article and even by people who don’t like Richard Dawkins.  Just about everyone seems to see the decision to publish this smear was a bizarre and ill-advised one.  Personally, I suspect the editors knew what they were doing.

The idea that Richard should be held accountable for the actions of his ancestors is of course ludicrous.  He didn’t choose his ancestors and since they died in the 17th and 18th centuries, there was hardly anything he could have done about it. As for paying reparation, to whom, exactly? And what purpose would it serve?  And what’s next? Do we investigate everyone’s family tree to see if their ancestors owned slaves?  Why limit it to slavery?  It’s hard to imagine anything more ridiculous.

But the point, of course, was two-fold.  First, to distract attention from the results of the poll. They don’t like the answers and can’t rationally deny them so they want to cover them up instead. And second, they want to fling some mud at Richard, knowing that some of it will stick.  Even in the minds of many who see the articles as unfair, an association between Richard and slavery will have been made.  The articles have encouraged a false view of Richard as living in luxury on the profits of slavery. This is going to occur to a lot of people when he’s mentioned in the future. They won’ remember that they thought the article was unfair, they’ll remember the association with slavery.

And that’s why the articles are so deplorable. It’s not the stupidest thing that’s been said about Richard. It’s not the most hateful.  It’s not even the biggest lie. What’s so bad is that the ‘journalists’ and editors knew perfectly well that the articles were nonsensical and completely unfair.  They knew they’d be widely condemned. But they ran them as tactical pieces to cover up the results of a poll because they didn’t like the results, and to smear Richard.  It’s so depressing because we know it will work.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The UK government is above the law because it says so, allows mandatory prayers in council sessions

We thought we’d won.  A High Court judge ruled that Bideford Town Council couldn’t insist that (Christian) prayers be part of their regular meetings. And quite right too: what does religion have to do with meetings about….roads…and…allotments….and….whatever else it is that town councils occupy themselves with?  What is prayer supposed to achieve?

It’s supposed to intimidate people, that’s what.  It’s intended to make it more difficult for people who aren’t Christians to participate in public administration.  Do you think it might be more difficult for a councillor to gain support for an initiative judged traditionally non-Christian directly after a Christian prayer?  Do you think councils are above including words in their prayers that would bias decisions?

That’s why religion has no business in government, including local government and that’s why Justice Ouseley ruled that the council shouldn’t hold prayers as part of its meetings.

Council members can pray as much as they want, of course.  The Christian ones could easily have a pre-meeting to pray if they wanted to. Everyone could pray silently to whatever god they wished before during or after the meeting..  But the ruling said that prayers shouldn’t be part of the meeting.

Our Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has simply cancelled this ruling.  He, personally, has decided that it’s perfectly fine for Christians to dominate the agenda at council meetings.  He thinks that Christians’ views are more important than anyone else’s and has made sure councils can discriminate against non-Christian views.

"By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness."

How many times do I have to say this?  It is not illiberal to complain about government forcing us to do things we don’t agree with. Its democracy. It is not right for government ministers to to invoke hat they call religious views to trump other people’s viiews.  That is simply the ultimate corruption.

My country had the chance to do something amazing and instead it fucked it up so badly that it made things far worse. I am so ashamed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Religion’s place in government

Robert Winnet writes in the Telegraph:

In an historic visit to the Vatican, Baroness Warsi will express her “fear” about the marginalisation of religion throughout Britain and Europe, saying that faith needs “a seat at the table in public life”.

That. Right there.

Bringing religion into public life can only possibly mean trying to impose your beliefs on other people and force them to behave how you want. These beliefs, of course, have nothing to do with what’s actually objectively good for people; it’s all about unsupported nonsensical myth, usually very antagonistic toward large numbers of people.  When governments get involved in religion, the result is always the same: conflict, discrimination, suffering, all because of some footling differences between sets of nonsensical rules based on things that aren’t true anyway.

The minister, who is also chairman of the Conservative Party, says: “My fear today is that a militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies. We see it in any number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings; and where religion is sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere.

It is not militant to demand that one’s government treat everyone fairly. All we want is for government to stop taking people’s idiotic beliefs seriously and treat everyone the same.  That’s militant? 

I hate how apologists always try to turn the argument back on us: every one of the incidents I’ve seen where religious jewellery has supposedly been banned from the workplace has turned out to be….quite the reverse.  It hasn’t been about intolerance of religious iconography, but a blanket ban on jewellery which includes crucifixes and Stars of David and so on.  It’s the religious who are demanding special treatment, not atheists. 

There have also been recent cases of public sector workers being banned from displaying Christian symbols at work.

Oh really?  What are those cases? Are there any cases or is this just something that ‘everyone knows’?  I suspect very strongly that these ‘cases’ will entirely evaporate under the slightest scrutiny,

“For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”

Warsi paints a pretty horrible picture of atheists while at the same time preaching tolerance.  She doesn’t seem to understand the contradiction.  I don’t know a single atheist who’s intolerant of religion. We tolerate it all time time.  We don’t care at all if people want to worship imaginary gods. We just don’t want those beliefs to dictate how we live our lives. And we’re the intolerant ones?  We’re the ones advocating totalitarian regimes?  We’re the ones who are frightened? By “religious identity”, Warsi seems to mean the ability to impose views, not the ability to possess them.

David Cameron welcomed the visit. He said: “Our relationship with the Holy See is an important one.”

Why?  What would we lose if the relationship were to suddenly end? I can’t see how even Catholics would be affected in the slightest and the rest of us would probably benefit. We wouldn’t have to pay for any more popes to visit, for one thing.

“You cannot extract Christian foundations from the evolution of our nations any more than you can erase the spires from our landscape,” she will say in her speech.

And nobody wants to.  Nobody denies that there’s a tradition of Christianity in the UK. It doesn’t mean we have to take it seriously now.

“Where, in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, faith is looked down as the hobby of 'oddities, foreigners and minorities’. Where religion is dismissed as an eccentricity because it’s infused with tradition.”

Not because it is infused with tradition.  Because it is stupid.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

John’s Cole and Sentamu

John Cole writes:

In fact, everywhere you look these days, if Christianity or religion is getting a mention, it means something ugly is happening and someone somewhere is being victimized, marginalized, or otherwise abused.

He’s right.  He’s talking about people like the execrable Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, who claims that he and his god (how does he know?) both value homosexuals, but just think they shouldn’t have the same rights as heterosexuals.  This is a man who thinks that a government’s attempts to remove restrictions on marriage is a dictatorial act; an absolutely unfathomable position, since dictating what other people are allowed to do with their private lives is exactly what he wants to do.

Sentamu might have argued against gay marriage on the grounds that his bible regards gay sex as an abomination. But he didn’t do that for two reasons:

  • He’d have to consistent. He’d have to condemn the eating of pork and shellfish.  He’d have to campaign against people who trim their beards or wear synthetic fibre.  He knows that all this stuff is palpably nonsense and that he’s engaging in special pleading because he just doesn’t like the idea of gay people having sex.
  • He’s well aware of the shit-storm that would rightly cause.  He’d no doubt try to nuance it, but the message to take home would be that homosexuals are abominations.  He knows that’s an untenable political position.

So instead he speaks cowardly about ‘history’ and ‘tradition’ in a brazen attempt at justification rather than valid argument.  Let’s be clear: John Sentamu wants to deny rights to homosexuals on the grounds that we’ve always done it.  There’s a history and tradition of slavery too (which, by the way, his god is totally fine with). But Sentamu does not support slavery, which clearly suggests that history and tradition are not really what Sentamu is concerned with.  When an argument from history comes up against an argument from justice, it’s revealed for what it is.  It’s not about history and tradition.  It’s not about the Bible. It’s about the fact that John Sentamu doesn’t like the thought of gay sex.

His argument that legalising gay marriage is a dictatorial act is just plain confounding.  It would be an act of liberation and empowerment.  The government would be giving up some its authority to determine who can and can’t get married.  By contrast, doesn’t banning a whole section of the country from marrying seem rather more dictatorial?  The government is changing laws to reflect majority view, which is what democracies do. Sentamu and his church want to impose their views on everyone, whether they believe in the god that’s supposed to motivate this nonsense or not.  Sentamu goes on to justify his statement by apparently claiming that legalising gay marriage is what dictators do,  I’d be very interested to see some examples, I can’t think of a single one.

More from John Cole:

But from where I stand these days, the only thing I see religion doing in the public sector is gay bashing and telling women, mostly poor and desperate and in deplorable financial and personal situations, what to do with their bodies. I see busybodies deciding what drugs they can dispense to which customers, or deciding that they don’t have to issue a marriage license because of some petty deity that I don’t believe in told them to hate their fellow citizens and ignore the law. In a country in dire financial straits but still spending billions and billions of dollars on education, I see religious folks actively and openly working to make our schoolkids dumber. I see them shooting people who provided a medical procedure, and I see others rummaging through people’s personal lives to find out who hasn’t lived up the word of God. I see glassy-eyed fools running for President claiming that vaccines that save lives actually cause cancer, or that if you get raped and are pregnant, you should just lie back and think of Jeebus and make the best of a bad situation.