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.

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…)

Church says “Sorry,” believers furious

(I know it was a week ago, but I missed this first time round)

It seems that the Church of England has decided to apologise to Charles Darwin for heaping abuse and disbelief on him in the mid 1800’s. From the Daily Mail [Online version]:

The Church of England will tomorrow [14 Sep 08] officially apologise to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.

Wonderful. I know decisions are slow in large organisations but this is a bit weird. It has taken them almost one and a half centuries to decide to say “sorry, we were wrong.” Still, better late than never I suppose. In this instance, it is no better or worse than people apologising for the slave trade. It is just one of those things organisations need to do so they can feel better about themselves.

The Mail article continues:

In a bizarre step, the Church will address its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.

Now, this isn’t actually all that bizarre. Well, if you are a Christian anyway. Look at it from the truly faithful’s point of view. Darwin isn’t dead in the secular sense – he is just no longer on the Earth. He is either in Heaven or Hell so an apology to him personally is actually totally appropriate. If you really believe in an afterlife, why cant big old Charlie be reading the Church of England’s newsletter and watching their cermonies. I mean, the man was a minister after all…

As even the most dense of lifeforms could have predicted, such PR stunts dont always attact postive commentary. Take this bit of ironic waffle:

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Poor old Ann, it isn’t even a good parallel but then, she is a tory minister so you cant expect too much. The thing that interested me the most, though, was why on Earth should she care? She is no longer CofE – she defected to the evil Catholicism. What makes her opinion on an organisation she spurned remotely valid? (Add to which, that is possibly the LEAST flattering photograph of a living person I have ever seen).

The only good “professional” comment comes from the National Secular Association (no suprise there, then): [Emphasis mine]

‘As well as being much too late, the message strikes me as insincere, as if there is an unspoken “but” behind the text. However, if it means that from now on the Church of England will say “No” to the teaching of creationism in school science lessons, then we would accept the apology on Darwin’s behalf.’

I couldn’t agree more. (continues below the fold) Continue reading

Science – Religion

Sorry, I had planned to stop going on about the comments on the Jamie Whyte article. However, on further reading there were some comments I couldn’t pass up on.

The first was just trivially funny, so I will kill it now. Several of the commenters came up with witty counter arguments along the lines of this one:

Surely this line of argument applies just as surely to atheists. What about the weight of living without a God? Your line of reasoning exposes you as one who does not believe either
David , London,

Erm yes. Being an atheist means you do not believe. It is kind of in the definition of the term. Being an atheist does not mean you “believe” in a hedonistic lifestyle of death and destruction (strikes me as being a bit too biblical to be honest). It does not mean you have be debauched and craven to fulfil your belief structure (again, this seems a bit like a few churches….). It simply means you do not believe in any gods. Easy isn’t it?

Anyway, onto the more important one – this time a commenter gets at the big problem faced in the west:

You were one of my philosophy lecturers when I was at Cambridge in the 90s. I reject your ‘realist’ view of science. Science doesn’t explain the origins of anything, it’s merely a useful construction to help us form judgements about the future. This view lets religion and science coexist.
andrew, London,

Now, I cant help but agree that Science does not explain the ultimate origins of some things, but to claim religion does so is a huge fallacy. I can only hope that Andrew learned more during his studies. “Religion” is not a solid body of information that can answer questions – every religion has a different creation myth and they can’t all be correct. Equally, the best that “religion” (ah, Loki, lets use Christianity as an example) can do is explain origins as “God Did It.”

Now, call me old fashioned but that isn’t an explanation. To claim that science can not explain the origin of something but saying “it was created by God” is an explanation is raving madness. The most basic example of this is the origin of life fallacy. While evolutionary theory makes no claims about the origin of life, the general scientific consensus seems to be along the lines of chance mixture of chemicals in the early Earth. The “Faithful” dislike this because it isn’t an answer to them – they want to know who created the chemicals to be mixed. Science can then bring in the creation of heavy elements in super nova, which leads to the question where did the early stars come from. We move to the “big bang” which leads to the question “what caused the time=0 event” at this point the Honest Science says “we do not know.”

Is this a bad thing? Not really. It is an honest answer. At best “Religion” can take it a stage further with “[deity of choice] caused it to happen” but still the question remains – who created the deity? Dishonest Religion weasels back with words to the effect of the “Uncreated Creator” but it is a screaming logical fallacy.

The last point “Andrew” made is also interesting. So interesting, I’ll repeat it here:

This view lets religion and science coexist.

How? While in an ideal world, and for some people, their particular religion and science can co-exist, as a general term it is impossible. Science demands its practitioners accept the evidence presented before them and dismiss even the most cherished notion should the evidence demand it. Religion is the exact opposite. It demands its practitioners cling to their notions in the face of evidence, no matter how strong.

In light of this, how can the two co-exist? One must always be corrupted by the other. If my religion dictated that the Earth was flat, could that co-exist with Science? No. Either I allow the evidence to alter my religion (either changing the interpretation of its canons or simply pretending parts of its holy book don’t exist) or I refute the evidence because my faith is strong.

That is not co-existing, one or the other must triumph. Personally I thought the enlightenment was when Science had taken the lead, but it seems a large portion of the world is trying to drag itself back to the middle ages.

The Scientific Method

(hat tip: post by SurfinSeaOtter on FSTDT)

I blame teh skoolz

On the Radio 1 news today there was a snippet (I am not going to look it up but it will be on the BBC website) about some truly stupid youngsters. Apparently, Police in Scotland have become the first in the UK to target people who admit to crimes on social networking sites such as Bebo and Facebook. (*)

Now, for me, I think this is a good idea. If people (mostly “yoofs” according to the news) are stupid enough to commit a crime and then boast about it online they need to be taken out of the gene pool urgently. One of the young lads interviewed had apparently put up pictures of himself in a balaclava carrying a knife. Why he went to these lengths to remain anonymous, then outed himself online is beyond me.

The most frustrating part, and a good example of how taking away the “classical” education has failed children was a young retard complaining about the police scouring social networking sites to find offenders. He actually had the gall to say it was an invasion of his privacy for the police to look over his Bebo page to find out what crimes he has committed. Flabbergasting.

For me, it weakens the real destruction of our privacy when people think things like this are an invasion of privacy. It is like putting a full page advert in a newspaper and then complaining that people reading it are invading your privacy. Idiocy reigns.

* Oddly I cant find this on the real BBC news so I may have dreamed it – but I hope not as I was driving at the time…

Blinded By Hate

Over on the wonderful Grumpy Lion blog there is a predictably excellent post which examines how most of the Hawks in the US government are, in fact, war dodging cowards while most of the doves have actually served in combat. This is something of a truism, as generally speaking, old men who have seen combat are a lot more reluctant to send others into battle.

However this is only a generalisation and it is important to be aware that, no matter how much a person may wish otherwise, it will not hold true in all circumstances. There are people who have never seen war who are solidly opposed to it and there are people who have seen death and destruction first hand but have not been turned pacifist by the experience.

With this in mind, the comments from Steph and Roy are especially entertaining. These have largely descended into a string of ad hominems against me surrounded by a huge helping of equivocation, so I am no longer going to take up space on Grumpy Lion with my responses, but there are some issues from the (erm) debate which I think are worthy of further mention.

Both Steph and Roy, in the finest internet traditions, demand copious examples of “evidence” to disprove their anecdotes. In fact the only information provided by either of them for their argument is a comment by Steph’s “grandfather” and a some vague references to the writings of Roy Jenkins. The most they can produce is “all of Churchills biographers” which is an immediately falsifiable claim (as I know of three biographers who claim different things). When contrary writing is cited, they dismiss the source as not being a “historian of note” (neatly ignoring their own single source’s status in the process).

Interestingly it seems the concept that Churchill dipped in and out of military service is impossible. Here we see another example of how the drive to shout and insult has blinded Roy and Steph to what I wrote in that I agreed with them that all the sources had Churchill working as a Journalist in the run up to Ladysmith and then Roy writes this with apparent glee: (this is a bit about Churchill covering the Spanish-American war of 1898)

It proves Steph is right and you are wrong and runs a horse and carts through your argument that Churchill wasn’t a correspondent before Ladysmith and saw active service. He avoided active service by going to Cuba.

Madness. Real, painful madness. It was around this point I finally realised there was no room for actual debate with either Steph or Roy and both were so obsessed with their idea that every hawk has to be a shivering coward nothing I wrote – even when I agreed with them – would actually be read.

Another example of what I have come to see as standard internet arguments (where the person doesn’t really have anything to say but hates the topic so much they have to argue) is the constant rattling about trivial facts.

I wrote that the Regimental History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers (now a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) had references to Churchill being Commanding Officer of one of their Battalions and having led his men on 36 forays across no-mans-land. This really drew some irate hand waving. Now it is certainly very possible that he did not lead his battalion on exactly 36 missions, but is the balance of probabilities going to lean towards none or at least 1 being the most likely?

One of the odd arguments centred on Military records being useless for historians. I found this pretty odd, given that these are the records used by most historians – especially for Ancient and Medieval researchers. Still, I began to work out what the issues here were when I mentioned that a good starting point for WWI research were the MOD’s records. Steph responded with:

This is a bare faced lie, the MoD didn’t even exist then.

Well blow me down with a feather. It seems that Steph (and to an extent, Rob) are obsessed with stating the obvious as if it is an argument. Everyone knows the Ministry of Defence did not exist in WWI, it was called the Ministry of War. However, since the MOW became the MOD, guess where all the MOW’s records are stored…?

Throughout the debate (for want of a better word) is along these lines. For good measure Steph points to her having a Doctorate in Law as if it carries any weight in an argument about WWI. Amazing.

Please, anyone, take a look at the thread and its debate and let me know what you think. Was I being unclear? Are there issues I have missed out on? Did Steph and Rob provide solid evidence for their claims? Did they bother to pay the money to visit the Regimental Museums and see what was there?