Empty Argument

I know letters pages are traditionally fertile grounds for finding crazy opinions and attitudes but its not that often you get in on the Guardian (especially when compared with the Mail or even BBC Online). Today however we see a familiar empty argument trotted out by someone who apparently has taken offence that Atheists have dared to try and teach children – when everyone knows only the Church are allowed to brainwash.

Patrick Smith, from Essex, writes:

It is great that young people are being taught to think (Summer camp offers ‘godless’ alternative for atheists, 30 July). Alas, it seems Camp Quest will be assuming science is the only way to find truth, a view not shared by most of humanity. Experience of love, music, art and (yes) religion are just as important. Atheists can brainwash as shamelessly as any cult!

Now, correct me if I am wrong but this seems completely flawed. Mr Smith is missing the point by such a large amount it seems he must be talking about something else. I have no personal experience of the atheist camp, so I am (like Mr Smith, I suspect) forced to use the article referenced for background reading.

It seems the children are being taught to think:

The idea behind the camp is to give a “godless” alternative to traditional religious summer camps. In the morning the participants discuss philosophical ideas and learn about subjects such as astronomy.

But nothing there makes me think that it assumes “science is the only way to find a truth.” (I am a bit confused as to otherways to find a “truth” though). Children, 12 years old, discussing philosophy fills my heart with joy and renews some of my faith in human nature. (all irony is intentional). But it continues:

Then in the afternoons they take part in more traditional camp activities. They swim, they run, they climb, they row. In the evening – if the rain relents – they sit round the campfire and toast marshmallows.

Ok – this strikes me as all wholesome, childrens activities. It also carries the implication that they are still active in the evenings. Unless we assume they sit silently around the campfire then they are likely to be listening to music, talking about artistic subjects or learning how to interact with others.

This sort of leaves me confused what Mr Smith is objecting to – unless he feels, like lots of Christians seem to do, that without god being invoked at every sentence then the lessons are meaningless and unimportant. The unintentional irony in that viewpoint is there is a religion where god is mentioned in almost every sentence, and Christians seem to hate it.

For those with strong irony meters and in need of some laughs at the unintentional idiocy that “people with faith” can demonstrate, the comments on the Guardian article about the camp are very funny.

Summer camp

In case you missed this story, there’s an atheist summer camp for kids in the UK, based on an American model (Camp Quest) inevitably.

I admit the idea is mildly ridiculous – devising improving leisure activities for kids, like po-faced Victorian philanthropists.

However, this has got to be an infinitely better idea than the summer camps that try to teach religion along with the raft-building and tree-climbing. This camp aims to encourage critical thinking and offers a prize for doing it, in the form of a £10 note autographed by Richard Dawkins.

So, if you are parent who’s already dreaming of a few child-free summer days – or if you are a kid who wants to go camping and to disprove the existence of unicorns away from your parents – it might be well worth checking it out.

By toutatis!

Enticing as this BBC story is – Pagan Police Get Solstice Leave, as so often, the content doesn’t live up to the hype.

Pagan police officers in some areas are being allowed to take as many as eight days leave a year for events such as the summer solstice and Halloween.
It comes after the Pagan Police Association was set up following discussions with Home Office officials.

Just in case you are a police officer reading this and you think can see hitherto-unsuspected benefits resulting from a quick faith change – of the kind that so many people undergo when their children reach school age – there aren’t actually any extra holiday opportunities for pagan police.

You would only get to swap your standard bank holidays for pagan bank holidays.

Which is a pity, because I was wondering if the “extra leave” principle might transfer to other jobs and other belief systems. Or at least, there’s a chance that non-believers could slip in under the pagan wire, given that a dictionary meaning of pagan is probably “non-christian”. I was wondering if even my employers could be persuaded to look sympathetically on my need to stay off work on Darwin days and Russell’s Birthday celebrations.

However, although you don’t get any more holidays, don’t despair yet, pagan police officers, just move to Hertfordshire. The BBC says that it has appointed two – note that, not just one, but two – pagan police chaplains. How unutterably cool is that?

Christians as atheists

The Christians were generally designated as atheoi, as deniers of the gods, and the objection against them was precisely their denial of the Pagan gods, not their religion as such.

from ATHEISM IN PAGAN ANTIQUITY,A. B. DRACHMANN, PROFESSOR OF CLASSICAL PHILOLOGY IN THE UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN, GYLDENDAL, 1922

oh, the ironing.

(Atheism in pagan antiquity on Archive.org. H/t to Nullifidian’s post: Britain’s First Newe Atheiste for directing me to the delights of archive.org)

Creating an absurdity

I see that mouthy atheists are to blame for the spread of creationism. ROTFL. * chortle immoderately * etc

Well, so it says in the Guardian special on the rise of creationism.

They also claim that the aggression of the new atheists is helping them. They paint Dawkins as a “recruiting sergeant” for creationism because he links evolutionary thinking with atheism. “He has been a real help to the ministry, ” says Randall Hardy.
Creationists argue that the new atheists are fuelling the dogmatism; Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford and a theistic evolutionary, last week threw that accusation back at them. “Creationists totally misunderstand the Bible,” he said. “Genesis is in the business of story, myth, poetry, metaphor. They [creationists and atheists] feed off one another. The debate has an unreality about it. Those of us who are not fundamentalists can’t find a place.”

Thus, even the relatively sane Bishop of Oxford puts atheism and creationism in the same conceptual “fundamentalist” box. And the full-blown creationist believes that -people who believe in God think they can’t believe in evolution, just because Dawkins links evolutionary thinking with atheism,

That is giving Dawkins much more influence than he can possibly dream of having. I refuse to believe that most people have even the vaguest ideas about evolution. Nor that more than a tiny minority of the population have ever read the God Delusion or even watched a Dawkins tv programme. (You would think that, almost by definition, people stupid enough to believe in creationism are too stupid to read erudite books or watch demanding tv)

Indeed, even the article undercuts the implications that there are grounds for this “Blame atheists for creationism” viewpoint.

Almost all Christians used to go along with the idea that Genesis was a bit suspect on dates, and that the six days of the Bible were metaphorical, with each day representing a vast geological age. The majority of Anglicans, theistic evolutionists who have no difficulty in believing in a Darwinian God, would still abide by that. But the publication in 1961 of Henry Morris and John Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood, which set out to give a scientific demonstration of the literal truth of the Bible, emboldened those who refused to accept evolution.

1961? Dawkins was 20 then. I’m pretty certain this predates The God Delusion by a few decades. Well, Wikipedia informs me that the God Delusion was published in 2006.

What on earth was fuelling creationism in the intervening decades, then, if noisy atheists are to blame now?

Or are we to start dating the “New Atheism” in creationist terms, so that we are to accept not only that dinosaurs walked with men but that an undergraduate Dawkins managed to spark the rise in creationism with his strident atheist complaints?

This article does provide creationist “answers” to two questions that have long baffled me.

  • Question: Why didn’t Noah take all the dinosaurs into the ark if humans and dinoasurs were all happily living together?
    Answer:

    Creationists, who argue that the world was created no more than 10,000 years ago, believe dinosaurs and man co-existed in the pre-Flood period (they date the Flood to around 1,600 years after the creation), that there were dinosaurs on the ark, but that they were eventually wiped out by the changes in climate which followed the Flood.

    Ah, it wasn’t that Noah just didn’t like dinosaurs. (Mentally upscale the conceptual size of ark needed, from one the size of France to one the size of Asia) He did his level best to save them but somehow they proved unable to survive in a changed environment. (Oh, you mean, like evolutionary processes?)

  • Question 2:
    What have creationists got against the biological sciences that they don’t have against mathematics or physics or geography?

    Answer:
    It seems that biology is nothing special. They are indeed just as willing to abandon all sciences where they conflict with the Bible.

    …..virtually all existing science has to be rewritten – and the creationists are ready to do the rewriting. The speed of light, Rosevear argues, used to be 300 times faster than it is now – necessary for creationists to explain cosmology and the distance of other solar systems from our own; the great cataclysm of the Flood explains the formation of sedimentary rock and the distribution of fossils; …

The Guardian writer either assumes that almost any reader will see the creationists as self-evident nutters or he lacks the most basic information-processing skills. For example, he uncritically reports “findings” from all those surveys (e.g for Theos :-)) that supposedly show that sizeable minorities of the population are creationists.

And his naivety seems incomprehensible when he says this:

British creationism is surprisingly independent from the far bigger, better funded, more vocal, highly politicised movement in the US, where creationists and intelligent design organisations (often a front for Christian creationists) are fighting perpetual legal battles to get creationist teaching into the classrooms of state schools.

The Portsmouth Genesis Expo may be a saggy old cloth cat to the Cincinnati Creation Museum’s roaring lion. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t manifestations of the same species, seen once in tragedy (Creation Museum) ; the second time in farce (Genesis Expo).

If I had to choose between whether to blame “The New Atheism” or the media (who present the opinions of lunatics as if they have some validity, in a “two sides to every argument” distortion of the concept of balance) for the rise of creationist lunacy, I know where I’d lay most of the blame.

.

Not much of a joke, but

Atheist bus slogan

Atheist bus slogan

One of the oldest and lamest jokes that I know, in a slightly topical atheist bus format.

The Guardian website has a link to the atheist bus slogan generator, here.

Respect for the dead

Funerals are obviously for the living. John Mortimer wouldn’t have welcomed his church funeral if he was alive to see it, but then – d’oh – he wouldn’t be having a funeral then, would he?

All the same, there seems something deeply disrespectful to the memory of a noted and outspoken atheist to have god-infused funeral. It’s as if – even though he notably failed to come up with a death-bed repentance of his unbelief – his mourners decided to do it on his behalf. Maybe this is how the myths about death-bed conversions get attached to the lives of unbelievers.

Sir John called himself an atheist for Christ,” the vicar said. “He always came to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. But he emphatically did not believe in life after death. My hope,” she added, “is that he has had a wonderful surprise.”
John Mortimer’s atheism was one of his most cherished convictions. He loved to cross-examine an archbishop about God and find his evidence deficient.
Yet it was at the little medieval church of St Mary the Virgin, in Turville, near Henley-on-Thames, where his parents are buried, that Sir John’s family and friends gathered yesterday to sing The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended at his funeral. (from the Times)

He went to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve? He probably loved carols. Doesn’t everyone? He may have enjoyed a bit of traditional ritual. I’ve attended any number of rituals for belief systems that I don’t seriously entertain for a moment. I hope they don’t all start scrapping over my bones when I’ve gone.

I can’t see attendance at the odd Christmas service as justification for a metaphorical religious dancing on his grave.

The celebatheists site described Mortimer as

…an unbeliever who is very much sympathetic to the ethical and cultural aspects of Christianity. (From celebatheists.com)

I still don’t think that justifies a church funeral. Even in his 80s, John Mortimer was writing and campaigning about civil liberties.:

The latest novel, Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, concerns a Pakistani doctor accused of terrorist activities, giving Mortimer the chance to lay into what he sees as the erosion of civil liberties. And he is already engaged in formulating the next Rumpole plot, which will be about Asbos.
……. Now he’s on to the subject of identity cards.”One thing my father said was that if you find yourself in a country where you have to carry papers, you know it has a lousy government.” (from a Guardian interview in 2006)

If you were to find out that a Special John Mortimer Memorial Edition ID card had been issued, because Mortimer once complimented the design of a sample ID card, this would be no more startling than to find out that well-known atheist had been given a church funeral.