Proof Of God – Christian Voice

Who would have thought Christian Voice would have cracked under the pressure of the No God bus campaigns in London? OK, most people I suppose. Still it is entertaining that they are riled by a simple poster to the extent they are demanding the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency to rule on the proof of God.

From the BBC:

An atheist campaign claiming “There’s probably no God” has been reported to the advertising regulator.
Posters with the slogan appear on 800 buses in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as on the London Underground.
But organisation Christian Voice has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority saying they break rules on substantiation and truthfulness.

Pardon me for a moment while I fall off the chair laughing.

They are saying that the claim there is probably no god is insubstantiated and / or not truthful. How on Thor’s hammer do they intend to convince the ASA of this one wonders…

But Stephen Green, national director of Christian Voice, said: “There is plenty of evidence for God, from people’s personal experience, to the complexity, interdependence, beauty and design of the natural world.
“But there is scant evidence on the other side, so I think the advertisers are really going to struggle to show their claim is not an exaggeration or inaccurate, as the ASA code puts it.”

More laughter rings out around WhyDontYou Towers. Evidence for God exists in “personal experience” – surely this alone is a self defeating argument because if I do not have that experience the advertisement is accurate as stated. I do not have that personal experience, therefore (should the ASA be reading this) the banner is 100% correct. Thank you Christian Voice.

I assume Christian Voice have lodged similar complaints over any advertising that mentions non-Christian religions, so any posters for Mosques, Temples (etc) will have to come down. I would never suggest people be petty enough to go through Christian advertising with a fine tooth comb – each day on the way to work I see a huge poster telling me that I will die for my sins, where is the proof of that I wonder?

In a wonderful bit of understatement (and acting a lot more adult than Christian Voice…), Hanne Stinson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said:

“I am sure that Stephen Green really does think there is a great deal of evidence for a God (though presumably only the one that he believes in), but I pity the ASA if they are going to be expected to rule on the probability of God’s existence.”

Indeed, it will be interesting to see what their decision is…

Darwin is not the atheist god.

In today’s Guardian, Madeleine Bunting has obviously run out of things to write about and pulled a bit of a weird post about atheists and Darwin to try and stir things up (and she has succeeded here at least 🙂 ).

With a peice titled “Darwin shouldn’t be hijacked by New Atheists – he is an ethical inspiration” she generates all manner of fallacies and incorrect statements. Interestingly, she achieves this without actually saying much at all. What a wonderful example of how you can fill four columns in a national daily newspaper with, effectively, nothing. She is writing about 2009 being the “Year of Darwin” (as well as Gallileo, but that is another story) and begins with what a “brilliant scientist” Darwin was, leading to this:

He is, Newton apart, the greatest British scientist ever, so it makes good sense for the British Council, among others, to use this as an opportunity to flag up the prestigious history of British science.

Now, I am sure there are many British scientists (living and dead) who would take offence at this. Darwin’s work (and Newtons) was indeed brilliant, but there have been many other examples of equal brilliance albeit in different fields. Lawrence Krauss, in New Scientist, states that “anyone who was looking could have seen that humans were animals” which is certainly true – Darwin’s brilliance was to have been looking…

Further on, Madeleine identifies one of the biggest worries about the state of British education (and possibly a reason behind the Year of Darwin):

What drives this anniversary is a missionary zeal to persuade and convince the public of the truth of Darwin’s great discoveries, because, astoundingly – despite the mountain of scientific evidence – there is still considerable scepticism and even hostility to this great Victorian. A poll for the BBC in 2006 found that less than half the British population accepted the theory of evolution as the best description for the development of life.

Less than half. In a “largely” secular nation. Sad, isn’t it. I have some doubts of the figures, because I know of no-one personally who would say Evolution is false. For 30+ million people in the UK to think this, the chances of me never having met even one is pretty remote. While I personally feel the figures are somewhat inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. One person thinking the Sky Pixie shook magic dust out and life appeared is one too many.

From this point on, however, it goes downhill. Madeleine falls into the trap of thinking Darwin is the Atheist equivalent of Jesus. She seems to think that atheists require a historical icon to have been an atheist to support the cause. She seems to imply that Darwin has become the Old Testament Prophet of the New Atheism.

Utter nonsense but first some quotes:

In particular, what would have baffled Darwin is his recruitment as standard bearer for atheism in the 21st century.

Where has this come from? Creationists initiated the battle against Darwin, invoking their god to strike down evolution. Religious people of almost all persuasions are happy to accept evolution as valid science. The catholic church has embraced the work of Darwin. How in the name of Wotan is Darwin the “standard bearer” for Atheism?

I actually think Madeleine has mistaken Darwin for Dawkins. Easily done, but a mistake none the less.

Yet bizarrely, the whole 19th-century collapse of faith is now pinned on Darwin.

Only by Creationists. Again, she is using the arguments of creationists against atheists. Madness. There have been atheists as long as there have been humans. We are born atheists and some are converted into theists. The Royal Society was full of non-theists who had nothing to do with Darwin. This is just nonsense you would expect to see on Rapture Ready or CARM.

The fear is that the anniversary will be hijacked by the New Atheism as the perfect battleground for another round of jousting over the absurdity of belief (a position that Darwin pointedly never took up).

The fear by creationists. What is this “New Atheism” thing anyway? What does it mean? Does it imply people have found a new way of not believing? Does it actually have any meaning or is it an underhanded way of taking a shot at Atheists? Is it an example of how some atheists hate their own lack of belief so much they feel the need to distance themselves from others? (This leads to a point excellently expressed on The Atheist Ethicist Blog)

Agnosticism is not a valid belief structure. You either believe there is a god, or you dont. There is no new way to not believe, just in the modern world people are less frightened of stating they don’t believe. It is not “militant atheism” any more than Songs of Praise is militant Christianity.

Next we have a sleight of words trick:

Many of the prominent voices in the New Atheism are lined up to reassert that it is simply impossible to believe in God and accept Darwin’s theory of evolution; Richard Dawkins and the US philosopher Daniel Dennett are among those due to appear in Darwin200 events.

Wow, this is good. There are two points here and she writes to imply they are heavily linked. She first tells us that people are lined up to assert that it is impossible to believe in a Deity (any deity) and accept Evolution and then mentions Dawkins. The implication is clear, Dawkin will be one of these people. This appeals on some levels, because Dawkins is an outspoken atheist (damn his eyes for having the temeretity to speak out….) but it is clearly written by someone who knows nothing of what Dawkins has said.

It is possible to believe in the Christian God and accept evolution. Evolution makes no claims on the origin of life. The Catholic church is happy that God planted the seeds and life evolved. See, it is easy. Evolution disproves a literal interpretation of the bible, but outside the more fundamentalist minds this is rarely found anyway. It is, largely, only devout creationists who feel that Evolution alone challenges God.

Science as a whole challenges belief. In the God Delusion, and during his TV shows and talks, Dawkins uses a vast array of scientific fields to challenge the existence of any deity. I can not think of a scientific disciple which does not provide information to show there is no [Wotan|Odin|Thor|Set|Dievas|Allah|Krishna| etc]. Astronomy and Geology rubbish any idea of a literal interpretation of the biblical creation theory. Evolution is but one strand. No one would say “hey, ignore everything else in science, the only thing that disproves the bible is the genetic similarity between humans and chimps” (or what ever variation you want).

However.

There is a group of people who do think Evolution is the only means by which God can be disproven. These people are convinced that the rest of the scientific stable supports the existence of god, and provides a framework for him to exist. These people also think Dawkins is the evil spokesman of “Darwinism” and these people use the term “New Atheism” to put down those uppity non-believers who have the cheek to speak out in public.

Creationists.

Madeleine Bunting’s article has been so heavily influenced by creationist thinking you could almost read it on CARM, Uncommon Descent or the like. Almost but not quite. The terms are creationis terms. The arguments are creationist-inspired. But the general tone is one of a non-believer. I suspect there is some element of lazy journalism here, or a creationist researcher, or both. Possibly, Madeleine Bunting is an “Old Atheist” – the sort who kept quiet, went to church, paid a tithe etc but didn’t have faith – or perhaps she is an “Agnostic” – an atheist who wont admit it – but either way, she is wrong about Atheism needing, wanting or having a standard bearer in the form of Charles Darwin.

Nativity Evidence

A London church commissioned a market research survey which found that most people don’t believe in the nativity story. 70% of those questioned didn’t believe it, including a quarter of the Christians who replied. A fifth of Christians also didn’t believe that Jesus was both God and man.

Without being wholly convinced of the validity of this research, I am cheered by the thought that most English people – atheists and Christians alike – seem to be still sanely sceptical.

St Helen’s Church in Bishopsgate, London, which commissioned the survey, has produced a film of “sound evidence” supporting the Bible’s account.

(I couldn’t find anything about the survey on the BMRB site or the church’s site but I found a bit of video about Christmas there. I thought it was a parody site.)

The “evidence” cited in the BBC report seems to be that:

“Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome just before Herod died… we’re talking about events that are anchored in real history not in ancient Greek myths.” (Simon Gathercole, Cambridge University)

I like this line of argument. If I say that green cows are somersaulting down the street, does the story gain any reflected credibility if I also mention that Barrack Obama recently became President-elect? So saying that events that supposedly took place around the year 0 AD took place at the same time as other events around the year 0 AD can’t possibly provide support for whether the doubtful ones are true.

Does the bible even mention Augustus? I don’t think so, but I have no intention of actually reading it to find out. The book of Matthew apparently mentions Herod as being the person who ordered the massacre of the innocents. Wikipedia suggests that

Most modern biographers of Herod do not regard the massacre as an actual historical event. Many scholars portray this and other nativity stories as creative hagiography rather than history.

Indeed, even a hundred years ago, the Catholic church must have found the massacre of thousands of babies story a bit hard to defend to:

The Catholic Encyclopedia in 1910 suggested that these numbers were probably inflated, and that for a town of that size probably only between six and twenty children would be killed, with a dozen or so more in the surrounding areas.

In fact, with reference to the gospel of Matthew, the word “identity theft” springs to mind.

The Early Christian tradition attributes the Gospel to Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples. Beginning in the 18th century scholars have increasingly questioned that traditional view, and today most scholars agree Matthew did not write the Gospel which bears his name. Most contemporary scholars describe the author as an anonymous Christian writing towards the end of the first century. (From the Wikipedia article on the gospel of Matthew)

If the BMRB survey is to be believed, almost 3/4 of British people accept this academic evidence and doubt the supposedly “sound evidence” offered by St Helen’s Church, Bishopgsate. How encouraging is that?

Muppet disestablishmentarianism

At last an opportunity to work the word antidisestablishmentarianism into everyday conversation. Well, OK, then disestablishmentarianism, but there must be Anglicans who’ll argue against Rowan Williams on this, so the magic longest-word-in-the-English-language should get a few airings over Christmas.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has revealed himself to be pretty much in favour of disestablishing the CofE, according to the Times and the Guardian.

It seems that the Archbishop has been swinging like a pendulum do, being alternately for and against the disestablishment of the church. Now he’s edging to the side of disestablishment. From the CofE’s perspective, establishment seems to come down to whether they have the monarch as their head and whether they have to turn up at state events. I can’t see that they would lose much from a formal separation of church and state. Nor, it seems does the right-wing of the CofE.

Reform, a network of mainstream Anglican evangelicals, at odds with Williams over the divisive issues of gay clergy and women bishops, agreed that disestablishment could be a positive step.
Yesterday its spokesman, Paul Dawson, said: “There are many advantages of being an established church and to lose these would be no small thing. To become disestablished would mean, as Rowan Williams seems to be suggesting, a rethink and sharpening of the prophetic voice of the church to the nation and this would be something welcomed by many.” (from the Guardian)

If these people favour disestablishment, it seems to be because they believe they could take the CofE more easily down their militant “traditionalist” path. In which case, continued establishment looks surprisingly appealing.

Blimey, there may be a reason for liberally-minded non-believers to favour Antidisestablishmentarianism after all.

The archbishop also praises Richard Dawkins’ “panache” and appears to compare himself to Josiah Bartlett, the fictional president played by Martin Sheen in the West Wing.

Oh, and he seems to quite like the Muppets, according to the Guardian.

.. he also discloses that his favourite films are The Muppet Christmas Carol and Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev. (from the Guardian)

Oddly unique combination of favourite film choices there. Muppet Christmas Carol? We’ve all heard of it but it would be difficult to squeeze it in to your Top 1000 best films, even if you’d only ever seen 100. The Tarkovsky one? IMDb it and find it’s a 1966 Kruschev-era film about an icon painter. IMDB reviews say it’s brilliantm but even its ardent fans say that it’s not exactly an easy movie to watch. For example:

It is a difficult movie to follow. One might liken it to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake as a work of genius so monumental and complex, and so disdainful of traditional narrative form, that it requires extensive thought and study to understand it. And even after studying it, watching it repeatedly, and reading Tarkovsky’s own comments about it, one still finds it opaque in many ways. (from IMDB)

Don’t all rush out and get the DVD, then.

God is at it again

The evil god who tells people to gun down complete strangers in crowded shopping malls is up to his old tricks. He ordered a man to ram a vehicle at 100mph.

” God told him “she needed to be taken off the road.”

This may not be a bad defence for someone living in a god fearing state. Google-maps shows Bexar County is in Texas, near San Antonio. On the basis of my admittedly non-existent knowledge of the distribution of blind faith in the USA, that sounds a mite too sceptical a location for this to play well as a defence strategy.

Still, there would only need to be a couple of Rapture Ready people on the jury and he’d walk from court a free man. After all, if god is going to beam them up and smash up the place after they’ve gone, who among them could say that this wasn’t a genuine manifestation of his smitely powers?

The prosecution could hardly prove the driver was acting under a ludicrous belief, “beyond reasonable doubt,” without implicitly calling into question all those Old Testament stories where god told people to sacrifice their first born or stone the ungodly.

This blog is bigger than god

In what must be one of the longest waits from confession to absolution on record, the Vatican has forgiven John Lennon for saying the Beatles were bigger than god (or more popular than Jesus, or something) according to the BBC.

This was a mildly jokey casual remark made in the early 1960s, by a man who’s been now dead for decades. Has the Catholic Church been fretting about it ever since?

The BBC has a 1960s clip that shows some of the aftermath of the Beatles’ bizarrely notorious jokes about their huge success in the USA.

In this clip, a reporter with an impeccable old-style “BBC” accent talks about US fundamentalist baptists with the barely disguised distaste of someone who’s spotted another guest eating a fly at a dinner party.

The implication is that the UK saw the extreme US responses to the Beatles’ remarks as symptomatic of a strange and backward American culture. Beatle atheism was more or less taken for granted in the UK. The tolerant attitude of UK religious believers is also taken for granted. The BBC reporter could clearly assume that even UK churchgoers would see US bonfires of Beatles merchandise as exotically bizarre.

This was 40 years ago.

You certainly can’t imagine science teachers thinking that Intelligent Design should have an equal billing with Evolution in the biology curriculum, forty years ago.

The world can’t be a sci-fi novel. If it were, the hero would surely have detected by now that time is running backwards.

Holiness

Rachel Sylvester, wrote in the Times that “There’s a god-shaped hole in Westminster” I assumed this meant that Thor had crash landed outside the House of Commons or, at the least, that artistic roadworkers had scooped out a reverse statue of Pan from the pavements of the Royal Borough.

Disappointingly, not so. Rachel Sylvester just thinks that our politicians are too godless.

Certainly, politicians find it easier to “come out” as atheists than to profess that they have a religious faith. Nick Clegg, David Miliband and George Osborne have all said recently that they do not believe in God – something that would be unthinkable in the United States, where presidential candidates compete to win over religious voters……
……. the favourite book for politicians on holiday last year was The God Delusion.

Well, yes, of course they find it easier to say they are atheists, rather than to call their own credulity and mental health into question, by claiming to believe in an imaginary friend. They want us to vote for them surely.

(I am distracted again by exactly how Rachel Sylvester knows what politicians’ favourite holiday reading was. I mean, I’d like to believe that it was the God Delusion but I fear that falls into the category of “made-up stuff”.)

The creeping secularisation of politics was one of the factors that pushed Ruth Kelly, a devout Roman Catholic, into resigning her Cabinet position. …….
She was also disturbed by the way in which her membership of Opus Dei was seen as something weird and even rather dangerous; and she disliked the way in which Mr Blair’s Christianity was mocked during the war in Iraq.

“Creeping secularisation” suggests some stealthy process in which the religious underpinnings of British government are being progressively undermined. Nonsense. Religion plays a bigger part in public discourse now than it has before in my lifetime. If anything, Blair let ideas of “religion” and “faith” intrude into UK politics in ways that were relatively novel.

Ruth Kelly’s membership of Opus Dei may indeed have been seen as something weird. Because it is.

(Although I doubt anyone had heard of her before she resigned, let alone knew that she was member of of Opus Dei, a Catholic society not normally associated with the politics of the Labour Party, old or new.)

Blair’s Christianity “mocked during the war in Iraq”. What? What on earth are you talking about? Blair was unpopular because of the war, true enough. What did his avowed Christianity have to do with that war? Or did he think he was secretly acting for Rowan Williams or the Pope? I can’t believe that either of them would thank him for it.

He was mocked for his commitment to “faith”, fair enough. Indeed, his commitment to his “faith” was so great that he pretended to be an Anglican until he left power, then immediately “converted” to Catholicism. It’s quite hard to see this as a deep and abiding commitment to anything.

Plus, if he was indeed mocked, it must have only been in the House of Commons, which boosts my faltering trust in the judgment of MPs. Most British voters are not interested in a politician’s religion, even though Ms Sylvester seems to think that we need politicians to proclaim imaginary solutions to give us the optimism to deal with crises:

It is ironic that politicians in this country have abandoned belief – at the very moment that the people need hope.

What? This rhetoric is bilge. Have politicians all abandoned belief? No such luck. All of a sudden? No. Do people need “hope” now particularly, as opposed to any other time? Obviously not. Do people get “hope” as a result of politicians believing in sky fairies? Too silly to answer.

Big Bang Confuses Creationists

Now I know this isn’t Earth-shattering news, and hopefully anyone literate enough to make it to this blog will already understand the basic principles of the big bang, but I was reading through FSTDT (as always) and this comment drew my attention:

whats funny is science is catching up with the BIBLE! GOD spoke all things into existence Genesis is spot on, just? check out “big bang acoustics” you can actually find an audio tape of the “early” universe. I don’t agree with the “20 billion years ago nothing exploded part” but the fact that sound has a vital role in the creation of the universe is as it is written! Amen! (source)

Interesting as this is one the few “fundie” comments that seems to accept the existence of the “Big Bang” – sadly combined with some stunning lacks of knowledge and logic, but you cant have everything.

It got me wondering why so many religious types do their best to deny the “Big Bang” as a figment of imagination.

Even the name “big bang” was coined as a derisory put down for a theory that Fred Hoyle felt had too much “God” in it. It has the potential to support all manner of primitive creation myths – although it does undermine the chronology of certain sacred tomes.

In a nutshell then, given how this could really fit in with a “creator,” why do so many creationists hate the idea of a “creation event?” Are they really so lacking in basic logic?

(obviously the answer seems to be yes, but I still have some residual hope for humanity…)

Dumb Belief

Alun posted an excellent link as a comment on heather’s last post. This pointed to an article by Jamie Whyte on the Times Online. Now I am a big fan of Jamie Whyte, so it goes without saying the article is interesting, well written and possibly informative.

The basic crux of it is that people who profess to believe don’t actually believe – rather they go through the motions and pretend to have FAITH in what ever sky faerie they think is the correct one. Jamie argues that, if people really did believe, they would have to act on their crackpottery, but as most people just go about their daily lives in the same manner as an atheist, what belief is there really out there?

As I largely agree with Jamie Whyte on this topic, I won’t go into it any further – however there are some comments on the Times article that really cannot be ignored. 🙂

Take this nugget:

I’m a Catholic. My election vote always goes to the candidate most likely to vote for policies that will save unborn lives. Issues such as health care, education and housing are of little significance if the right to life is not accorded to all human beings at all stages of development.

Julia, Manchester, UK

First off, I have to say “Liar, liar pants on fire” as I very, very much doubt this is from someone who lives in the UK. The terminology used is very much American and relates to US political issues. Lying for Jesus is still lying and this is just a pointless lie as teh intarweb is truly global – who cares where you come from?

More interestingly, from an angry atheist point of view, is the perverted world view it expresses.

“Julia” will base her choices on a government based on how it treats an unborn life. She cares not how badly people who are currently alive are treated, it is the unborn life that means more. Who cares if people are starving to death, dying of hypothermia or falling down with all manner of communicable diseases as long as no fetus is aborted.

How can that not be wrong? (The cynic in me puts this down to a distorted form of capitalism – they actually only want more babies so they have more people to subjugate and take money from).

Moving on, we hit the tired old drivel one comes to expect from poorly educated theists:

First, just because someone calls themself a Christian, does not mean that they are in fact a Christian, Second, do you ‘believe’ or do you ‘wish’ that this column actually has any meaning?….since under an Atheistic world view, we are all here by chance and have no purpose or meaning.
John, USA

I don’t mean to be rude to any American readers, but this strikes me as really being from an American. It is no argument. It is some one who doesn’t understand atheism (at least we have Religious Education classes) and is so brainwashed by Southern Baptism they can;t comprehend an alternative. I am a touch confused where the “meaning” came from – I am sure Jamie Whyte doesn’t care if “John” thinks the column has meaning – although obviously it had enough to get John to respond….

In quick succession we find:

Atheism is the state religion of a decaying culture; the new British state religion. Your column of atheism has every sign of a religious argument. (Religion: “that which is of ultimate importance.”)
Could you imagine a Christian getting a platform such as the one you have; never happen in UK.
kris, Pass,

No, I don’t get it either. I am sure the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, The Church of Wales and the Church of Ireland have their own views on our “state religion” – given that the figure head of the state is head of the Church of England, I could only dream of a day when Atheism was a “state religion” – even if it did contort the brain trying to explain how “atheism” can be a religion. As for the last sentence, the mind boggles. The Times alone has four times as many Christian columnists as atheists ones. There is even a whole section of the Times blogs for “faith” blogs. Sorry kris, but you fail.

It seems Americans just can’t stay away from English newspapers lately:

Why do you care?
Why does it irritate and anger you so much?
Why is it necessary to attack Christianity?
Because you are not sure.
There’s a part of you that wants to believe and you won’t allow it.
That’s very sad.
Roy, Vermont, USA

Erm, no. Why do western Atheists care about, and attack, the insane spreading of Christianity – well, simply because it directly affects our lives. Laws are passed based on Christian doctrine. Taxes are taken from hard working atheists to fund crackpot theists. Both are good reasons to care about Christianity in politics. Still, the ideal counter argument is why, “Roy,” do you care about what an Atheist says? Is it because part of you is not sure? For a BELIEVER that has to hurt. That really is sad.

Next we stray into very volatile territory:

I’m an agnostic and I think unborn children should be protected. It’s not about a soul, it’s the knowledge that once a life has started there is no difference between destroying it ten weeks or ten years later. Interestingly, the foetuses killed in Omagh are included in the tally of those murdered.
Paul Williams, London, UK

“Agnostic” – well, I have commented on that line of weak thinking in the past, but then again Santa may be real, no one has totally proven he isn’t.

Without straying too far into the abortion debate, this has a bit of a flaw. Basically put, it is not an argument against abortion, it is one against all form of contraception – along with being against eating meat, euthanasia etc. In itself these may be fine ideas and some people do agree with them but it is not an “anti-abortion” argument. The question still remains – when does “life” begin. The Omagh death tally is just an irrelevance.

From the almost-arguments we get the predictable Godwining of the thread:

Kant’s Enlightenment could have been his reaction to an overbearingly strict religious upbringing.Despite its “civilizing”
commentary, Kant himself rprtdly delighted at the news of the
French Revolution.Murderous atheistic Communism/Nazism were the major global effects of Enlightenment philosophy.
Joan Moira Peters, Whangarei UK Citizen, temp o/seas in New Zealand

Yada, yada, nonsense. This is such nonsense that I hope anyone reading this blog wont need me to explain.

Things start to go downhill here:

But it’s not just Christians who don’t follow through. Determinists continue to talk as if they were “free” to judge the validity of an argument. And atheists aren’t always the self-interested hedonists one might expect from believers in a meaningless universe with only a darwinian moral compass!
JS, Glasgow, UK

Nope. I am lost. I am not sure of the point trying to be made here and part of me thinks it could be somewhat tongue in cheek, although any reference to “Darwinian” annoys me.

With that, then, I will end my search though the comments. I strongly suggest you take a look and remember the comments read from the bottom of the list up. Some are interesting, some are annoying and lots are just plain crazy!

School values

Madeleine Bunting put forward a case for faith schools in the Guardian today. Well, I think she did, her logic pretty well escaped me.

The claim in the title “Faith schools can best generate the common purpose that pupils need” wasn’t supported by any argument that I could follow. This seems to be the crux of it:

So, with hard hat on, here goes the defence: that it is possible to justify faith schools within the state sector with important qualifications; that many of them do a remarkable job; and that it’s time the critics put prejudice aside to think more carefully about the source of their appeal to parents.

Well, I’ve thought carefully and I believe I know the source of their appeal to parents – that is, parents who don’t actually follow the faiths that they are supposedly so keen to cram into their offspring:

They have a more exclusive intake. Christian religious schools don’t have many pupils who don’t speak fluent English. They can throw troublesome kids back to the state sector. They can often get better exam results.

That’s basically it.

I find it hard to draw a connection between these facts and “faith.” The old selective grammar schools – when selection was at least based on an exam pass rather than a belief in magical entities – got better results than the schools for kids who’d failed their 11-plus.

I thought the idea of doing away with grammar schools was to heal social divisions? “Middle class” kids were certainly over-represented in grammar schools. All the evidence suggests that they are currently over-represented in the popular faith schools. And there is no evidence of a massive expansion of religious belief amongst the middle classes that might explain it in religious terms. It’s people trying to get the best for their kids, whatever it takes. Perfectly understandable in individual pragmatic terms. Whether the state should be buying votes by supporting this with our taxes is another matter…..

But supporters of faith schools prefer to pretend that religion brings some educational magic of its own. Insofar as Bunting has an argument to present, it is that faith schools are better at putting across an educational ethos.

But these are old-fashioned ideas. Walk into any secondary school and one senses how counter-cultural that ethos is. The blazers, badges, Latin mottos, the “Morning, Sir,” the emphasis on tradition, formality and obedience: it’s an institutional culture decades old. Teachers have the unenviable task of battling against a culture of self-entitlement, individualism and self-promotion to try to generate a common purpose.

Hmm. Blazers, badges, Latin mottoes… and so on? Her concept of “education” comes straight from a 1940s boarding school story.

Some schools have genuine traditions. These are usually private and cost as much as the average annual wage. Their succes sis based upon the very fact that they cost the annual wage. (Beautiful grounds, incredible teacher-pupil ratios, coy relationships with Oxbridge colleges, other rich kids to make friends with for future networking…)

To build new schools and expect them to pretend they have been going since the middle ages – in the belief they’ll bring the benefits of Eton – is so ersatz. The whole enterprise seems to be built on misleading kids. Trick them into thinking they are attending Eton in the 1930s and they will behave themselves.

It’s a Disneyworld image of education. But, if anything, this could explain the appeal of faith schools. If enough fools believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, at the top end of the faith school pyramid (with lavish use of our taxes, of course.)

At the bottom end….. Catholic schools vs state school battles. Kids who leave school without ever sharing a classroom with kids from different backgrounds.

Secular humanism has not found a popular ethical narrative to replace faith; parents, uncertain how to bring up their children with a sense of responsibility for others, resort to school Christianity.

She is saying that parents who are without ethical values rely on church schools to graft these on, at the same time as imparting a belief in an all-powerful magic man? She is also implying that values rely on myths.

This is bilge in so many ways that I can’t even begin to address them. It is teaching hypocrisy by example. Great “ethical” value, hey? “Do as I say, not what I do.”

It doesn’t work, given that children are not necessarily either unobservant or so dumb that they will believe what adults tell them to be true over the evidence of their senses.

More Church and Schools

Good to see that the UK government is still coming under political pressure to drop its demented encouragement of “faith schools”.

The BBC reported

Ministers are being urged to stop faith schools in England selecting pupils and staff on the basis of their religion.
Accord, a new coalition of secular and religious figures, wants the government to stop state-funded schools engaging in what they say is “discrimination”.

Faith schools getting forced into not favouring people who hold their “faith”?

Well, that would be a start.

But, they are wrong on so many levels that, if they were buildings, they’d need the world’s biggest elevators. Demolish the lot of them.

Church and school

Churchgoing is associated with teenagers getting higher grades, according to a study cited in Ecumenical News International and discussed in the Times. On first consideration, this seems a bit counter-intuitive, given the preponderance of non-believers in the higher academic world and all those flattering studies that suggest that atheists are generally more intelligent and educated than believers.

The findings suggest that it’s whether the student actually attends church rather than whether s/he has any religious belief that has an impact.

The study suggested four reasons church-going teens tend to have more success at school.
One of these is that they have regular contact with adults from various generations, who serve as role models. Another reason is that the young people’s parents are more likely to communicate with their friends’ parents. Other factors at play are that teenagers who attend church develop friendships there with peers who have similar norms and values, and they are also more likely to take part in extracurricular activities. (from the ENI site)

I haven’t seen the data, only the reports, so I’m not challenging their figures or even their suggested explanations.

But there are some alternative ways of looking at this evidence.

Most crucially, it seems to me to be confusing correlation with causation.

i.e. On average, kids who go to church get better grades. Even, if it’s true, this doesn’t imply either one causes the other.

At an individual level, isn’t it likely that teenagers with a greater tendency to conform are more willing to do what their parents want – both in terms of doing their schoolwork and church attendance? So the good grades and the willingness to go to church might both just be manifestations of a general willingness to please adults.

Like brushing their teeth at bedtime. Which may also turn out to be positively correlated with good school attendance and good grades.

The implications that church-attenders are more involved in the community would seem to apply mostly to people who live in cohesive “communities” in which – especially in countries such as the USA – church attendance is pretty much the norm. Questions I would like to ask would be about the localities that the researchers looked at. Villages, towns, cities, slums, suburbs? Incomes? Family stability?

I can think of quite a few questions about this study. But the one that really nags at me is the use of the concept of “good grades.” Good grades are not necessarily indicators of real learning, or even of an academic capacity.

The research might suggest that many schools encourage conformity, rather than independent thought, and penalise those kids who show a troublesome desire to think for themselves (by refusing to go to church, for example.) Hence, more church-non-attenders drop out or put minimal effort into their schoolwork.

No Atheists Wanted

Freedom of religion still does not mean freedom from religion. The BBC has a news item today about a an atheist in Co Donegal (Republic of Ireland) having to be buried in Co Londonderry (United Kingdom) because all the graveyards in Donegal are church owned.

A Donegal atheist had to be buried in Londonderry because the county has no facilities for non-religious burials.
Journalist Roy Greenslade’s mother was buried in Ballyowen cemetery in Derry on Tuesday after a humanist service.
He said he was told atheists could not be buried in Donegal because the graveyards are church-owned.

Strikes me as being a touch petty and very strange that this appears to have been the first atheist / humanist burial in Co Donegal. I know the Republic of Ireland teeters on theocracy, but surely…

Once I got over the farce of a whole county being unable to bury the non-religious, I did wonder a touch. Why did an “atheist” family want a Church burial in the first place? I certainly dont. And, reading the article something else struck me as slightly odd:

“Therefore unless one is willing to compromise one’s beliefs by agreeing to a religious service, it is impossible to be buried,” [Roy Greenslade] said.

Here we see atheism described as a belief system again. I find it hard to compromise my lack of belief, simply because it is a lack. If I wanted to bury my atheist mother in a church graveyard, I would pretend she was what ever religion is required. If I want my children to go to a church shool, I will pretend to be what ever religion is required. This is not immoral – if I needed to get my kids into Santa’s school I would pretend to belive in Father Christmas. It is all the same to me. Dying for your religious beliefs is the act of a religious believer.

Where there is a difference is the issue of choice. Should, for example, a law be passed saying I have to belive in Faeries, I will stand up against it. To me, these are two very different things.

On a final note of black comedy, the BBC have a delightful example of Irish (Northern Irish in this example) reasoning regarding religions:

“When I [Roy Greenslade] rang up and asked Derry City Council’s cemeteries department if it was possible to bury an atheist in a municipal cemetery they said it was possible because there were different sections for Catholics, Protestants and Muslims.

“My wife asked if it meant they were going to start an atheist section and the woman said, ‘oh no, she can go in with the Protestants’.”

It really is a joke that just keeps giving.

Dawkins talks to Ted

This video link was just sent to me. It’s an elegant Dawkins speech from a couple of years ago that I hadn’t seen it before. It is on a website called Ted that sponsors conferences called Ted. That’s an acronym, not somebody’s name (although there may be a companion site called Bill.)

Other speakers include Daniel Dennett and Billy Graham. Yes, that was Billy Graham. I haven’t listened to the rest of the discussion yet. I remain unconvinced I can embed the video so I’m going to paste the link first.

The site is sponsored by BMW. Note to BMW. I’m thinking of this link as potentially lucrative product placement. Please enclose my payment for mentioning this in the form of a late model vehicle.

End of infinity

To retain the will to live, I’ve bunched up the alphabetical-order challenged members of the Atheist Blogroll all in one final burst of links.

Sorry if your blog is called “Zeebedee’s Journal.” This blog, starting as it does with an unappealing W, feels your pain.

P! PA Nonbelievers parenthetical remarks Persephone’s Box Pharyngula Philippine Atheists Philosophers’ Playground phreedom.us physicshead Pink Prozac Pink Triangle Pinoy Atheist Pinoy Freethinker Pinoy-Korean Atheist Planet Atheism Planet Humanism Plonka’s Blog Podblack Blog Polypyloctomy PONZO Pooflingers Anonymous Post Thought Primordial Blog Principles of Parsimony Prose Justice Protium the Heathen Psychodiva’s Mutterings PURPOSE OF LIFE
QuarkScrew Quintessential Rambling quird

Radical Atheist Ramblings Ramblings of an Atheist Undergrad Random Intelligence Rank Atheism Rarus vir Rational Expression Rational Mom Rational Russian RationalEyes Ravings of an Angry Leftist Re-imagine Ritual Real Virtuality Reality Heroes Reason & Society Reason Makes Sense… Right? Reason TV Reasonable Doubts Recalcitrance Reduce to Common Sense Reeding and Writing RejectMoses.com Religion is Bullshit ! Religion is Man-Made Replace the lies with truth Resurrecting Reason REV. ART’S ATHEIST PIN-UPS! Rev. BigDumbChimp reVAMPed Reverend Mark J. Seydel Richard Carrier Blogs Rideo ergo sum Robert’s Thought’s Rodibidably Ron’s Rants Rupture the Rapture Russell’s Teapot RWANDAN ATHEIST

Sacred Celtic exiled in Bruxelles Saint Gasoline Salad Is Slaughter Salient SAMIZDAT Sans God Sarahnomics Scary Reasoner Scripture For Skeptics SDARI Sean the Blogonaut Secular Humanism with a human face Secular Philosophy Secular Sunday Sermon See For Yourself Seeing Beauty Shared Difference SHUFFL Silly Humans Situation normal Skeptic Journal Skeptic Rant Skeptical Monkey skepticisme Skeptico Skepticology Skepticum Skeptic’s Play Skeptigator So long, and thanks for all the guilt! Societal (R)evolution Something From Nothing Something to Say Son Shines Zee 365 Soup’s Soapbox Southern Atheist Spanish Inquisitor Specter of Reason Spectrum of Beliefs Spewing Truth in the face of Lies Splendid Elles Spoliarium Spread Rationality stacy, interrupted Stardust Musings and Thoughts for the Freethinker Stargazer Staring At Empty Pages State of Protest stereoroid.com Steven Carr’s Blog Strange Land Strappado Stupid Evil Bastard Stupid, Lazy, Fat & Crazy Suburban Panic! Success lies within us all Summer Squirrel Synapostasy Tabula rasa tales of an ordinary girl Tangled Up In Blue Guy Tarpan’s Blog Terahertz – From Physics to Life
Terminal Atheist Thank God I’m An Atheist That is so Queer…

The A Word The Affable Atheist The Amanda Show The Amiable Atheist The Anatomy of a Coming-Out The Angry Atheist The Anonymous Atheist The Anti-Church Zone The Antichristian Phenomenon The Apostate The arrogant atheist The Arrogant Atheist The Atheist Blog The Atheist Blogger The Atheist Camel the atheist chronicles The Atheist Endeavor The Atheist Experience The Atheist Handbook The Atheist Jew The Atheist Mama The Atheist Resistance The Atheist Response The Atheist Rock Band The Atheist Spot The Atheocracy The Atheologist The Bach The Blasphemous The Blog of M’Gath The blue roads of thinking The Calladus Blog The Cat Ranch The Choice is Now The Circus of Doctor Lao The Clever Atheist The Conscious Earth The Coptic Atheist The Crazy Christian Blog The Creationist Monkey The Crooked Gremlins The Daily Awesome The Daily Cat Chase The Daily Taylor The Eloquent Atheist The End of Hereditary Religion The End of Silence The Enlightenment of the Healy The Eternal Gaijin The Eupraxsopher The Extended Penotype The Feminist Francophile The Flying Bagpiper The Flying Trilobite The Frame Problem The Freethought Cafe The Fundy Post The Gay Black Jew The Gaytheist Agenda The God Complex The God Dam the God-jeering ATHEIST The Godless Grief The Good Atheist The GORGON’s Mask The Great Lie Of Islam The Great Realization The Greenbelt

The Happy Humanist The Humanist Life The Humanist Observer The Huntress’ Domain The Inanity that is Life The Incomer The Information Paradox The Inoculated Mind The Invisible Pink Unicorn The Iron Chariot The Irrational Theorist The Jesus Myth The Jewish Atheist The JFC Show The Labour Humanist The Lay Scientist The Libertarian Defender The Life and Opinions of Mcmoogol, Gentleman The Life Of An Atheist The Lippard Blog the LITTLE things The Mary Blog the meme pool The Mutt’s Nuts The Nate and Di Show The Natural Skeptic The Nerd The New Atheist The New Horizon The O Project The One With Aldacron the otherwhirled The Pagan Prattle Online The Panda’s Thumb The Passionate Skeptic The Perplexed Observer The Phytophactor the post-bicameral mind The Primate Diaries The Proud Atheist The Psycho Atheist

The Questionable Authority The Rad Guy Blog The Raving Atheist The Red Ferret The Religion Virus the religious atheist The Renegade Writings The Right Wing Professor’s Blog the Science Ethicist The Science Pundit The Scottish Atheist The Second Mouses Guide to Life The Second Oldest Question The Secular Outpost The Secular-Man Blog (An Oasis of Clear Thinking) The Serenity of Reason The Seven Solitudes The shadows of an open mind The Skepbitch The Skeptic Review the skeptical alchemist The Skeptical Sorcerer The Smug Baldy Speaks The Stubborn Curmudgeon! The Thermal Vent The Thinkers’ Podium The Truth Of Islam The Truth of Rational Thought The Uncredible Hallq The Underground Unbeliever The Uninformed Suburban Housewife The Uninspired Manifesto The Universe According to Tim The Untraditionalist The View from Here The View from the Pond The Water is Poison The Word and The Golden Monkey The World is a Lesson in Perspective The World Wide Rant The Zen Of G

These Twisted Times Thought Room Thought Theater Thoughts and Opinions Tidbits for Atheists Tolerance and Peace toomanytribbles Toxic thought waste site Trifling Ideas Trinity’s Christian Dairy Troffle Trudging the Gentle Path of Happy Destiny True Bible Knowledge Tungtide UberKuh Uncouth.net Ungodly Cynic Unorthodox Atheism Unreasonable Faith Unscrewing The Inscrutable Urikalization – Uri Kalish Variable Veracity Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy Velocity Inversion Vetenskap & Förnuft View From Earth Villa Nandes Vincent Geloso: 100% libéralisé

Wanderin’ Weeta WASP Waving Not Drowning Way of the Mind We Are Alone We have a voice Well, that would be telling whatever will bewilder me Where The Rubber Meets The Road Where We Make Our Stand Why Believe? Why Dont You Blog? Why I hate Jesus Wishwords WithoutGods WORKS WITHOUT FAITH Wrong In Their Mind Tanks Yet Another Atheist Blog Yet Another Blog You Call This Culture? You Made Me Say It Young Earth Creationists Anonymous Zatheist Zen of Zero zenbullets ‘Satan Is Real’ Atheist Music Blog