New outrage scale needed

Turn the dial to 11. These news items show the inadequacy of any existing conceptual scale to the task of measuring your daily justified-outrage level.

(1) The pastor and congregation of the Dove World Outreach Center have engaged in an Al Qaeda recruitment campaign. I doubt that they know enough French to translate the phrase agent provacateur but they seem to understand the concept well enough to to play this role. Albeit, well out of reach of the actions they plan to provoke.

Charitably, I will assume it is just a bid to put Dove World Outreach Center in every standard dictionary, whenever there’s a need for an instant definition of “unbelievable stupidity”, “religious bigotry”, or “armchair warrior”. (Plus a few other words and phrases that wouldn’t make it into a school dictionary. )

Maybe they think their god is too slow in hastening Armageddon and needs a helping hand.

The guardian had a ludicrous anti-Dawkins piece the other day, with the writer claiming that:

He has become the mirror image of the theological dogmatists he despises.

There’s nothing like the Dave World Outreach Center to show that – if anything – Dawkins has been pulling his punches.

(You don’t need a link from me. This story is everywhere as they clearly planned.)

(2) And this story that seems equally designed to boost the membership of fundamentalist armies by a factor of several thousand. The Guardian headlines:

US soldiers ‘killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies’
Soldiers face charges over secret ‘kill team’ which allegedly murdered at random and collected fingers as trophies of war

Dare I hope there’s a holdall somewhere with the names of these soldiers and the Gainesville pastor on it?

Dawkins is the Devil – lying for jeebus…

Previously I mentioned about how Ruth Gledhill had monumentally missed the point with her TimesOnline blog post about the latest Humanist campaign to try and stop people labelling their children without given them a choice.

It seems Ruth is not the only person who has missed the point (for example Jacqui’s comment on my previous post) but, as is often the case, the commenters on her post really set a new standard. I have tried a few times to leave comments on the Times article, but they never seem to make it past moderation…which makes it even more bizarre that these comments have made it through.

The one which really made me laugh was from Iain Carstairs (posted 0725AM, 21 Nov 09). It begins:

Dawkins is a fanatic, true, but he is a more dangerous one than a religious zealot.

Wow. Call the Whitehouse and MOD. Get all the troops back from Afghanistan and prepare to invade Oxfordshire (or where ever Dawkins is living now). The War on Terror was obviously a mistake (“at last!” I hear you cry) and now we need to begin the War on Thinking. (OK, I agree, this has already been going on for centuries in some places).

Joking aside, this is nonsense. But it continues:

A suicide bomber can kill a small crowd, and hardline Christians have been known to shoot abortionists. The Israelis are steadily dehumanising the Palestinians, and are on their way to exterminating them: with the blessing of the US and the UK of course.

No, seriously? With this in mind (if we think of the WTC and Madrid as being a “small crowd”) then the whole furore about terrorism is nonsense. Sadly, I agree, but for different reasons.

But Dawkins is attempting to remove the spiritual dimension from life. It is as if he is attempting to prise the eyeballs out of a billion sockets, simply because there is no scientific proof of God.

ZOMG!! Oh Noes!11!!!1!1! Dawkins is making people THINK. Evil, pure evil. Torture in fact. Wont anybody think of the children. (and so on)

This is so crazy it almost defies belief (puns intended). This is a common misconception from people who are blinded by their belief – they ignore the true majesty of the universe and the beauty that life demonstrates. Look at the deep field pictures from Hubble for examples. They take this grand beauty of nature and spoil it by creating an invisible puppeteer who controls every action for some unknown, yet unarguably cruel, purpose. This is not allowing people to see the beauty of nature, but a cruel way of blinding them and controlling their actions. It is evil.

After some more of this drivel, Iain finishes with:

Without spirituality, we become Dawkins’ descendants: hoodies, yobs, sociopaths.. the greedy and addicted children of materialism, who make this world a living Hell.

Wow. Lets look at this again. The hoodies, yobs and sociopaths that Iain refers to are not “Dawkin’s descendants” they are growing up in the time of Dawkins. At best their children could be described as Dawkin’s descendants as its only in the last couple of years that Dawkins has been in the public domain.

The children who “terrorise” the communities inhabited by Mail readers (and presumably Times readers) are from families where, on the whole, belief still remains prominent. The vast majority of greedy and addicted materialists are religious.

Lying for Jesus is still lying.

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.

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?

    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?

    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.


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.

Dawkins on Darwin, Part 3

Good programme. (Channel 4, UK. I should hope some socially conscious pirate has put it on You-tube by now. Or you could buy the DVD.) Dawkins and Dennet made a generally superb job of pointing out how the joys of the real natural universe piss all over the imaginary comforts of religion.

It was a difficult to decide which anti-evolutionist – the American woman or the British chemistry teacher – would be my first choice if I ever win a “Free kick the stupidest creationist who’s ever been on tv” competition. In the end, it has to be the British teacher. National pride requires it.

However, the American woman managed to combine a patronising manner with a studied and deliberate social “charm”. She smiled continuously – in what she must have been misinformed was a disarming way. She fixed Dawkins with steady (albeit slightly cross-eyed) eye contact and mouthed utter bullshit about “teaching the controversy.” So, it is with a heavy heart that I have to relegate her to second choice.

I was baffled by the English science teachers who declared themselves a bit scared about teaching evolution. Imagine a group of geography teachers worrying about teaching their subject, in case some student had a parent who was in the Flat Earth society. What’s the difference?

The Archbishop of Canterbury managed to tie himself in knots trying to square complete acceptance of the science with his concept of a god who set up evolution but kept out of it – while, at the same time, claiming to believe in the New Testament miracles. There was an entertaining moment where he more or less admitted his position was a fudge to deal with awkward questions.

Dawkins on Darwin

Richard Dawkins is presenting a short Channel 4 series on Darwin. It’s mostly pretty damn good. It’s clear and enthusiastic and really enjoyable. I was really pleased to see that Dawkins opposes the faux-evolutionary nonsense that is used to justify predatory capitalism.

However, I’ve got to put in a couple of gripes, just to stop this blog being suspected of mere sycophancy:

Why does he keep referring to Darwinism? There is no Darwinism. Dawkins must be getting too many trolls and, absent-mindedly, paying attention to them.

There is also some justice in Libby Purves’ argument that Dawkins has set up too simple a choice between believing in evolution and believing in god(s). In the first programme, he addressed a collection of school students who had been led to believe that accepting evolution ran counter to the religions they were brought up in. So, they didn’t believe in it. He showed them some clear evidence and some of them felt obliged to question their faith. Libby Purves argued that this was a bit of a false example, as there are huge numbers of god-believers who accept the evidence for evolution.

Dawkins’s response seems a bit lame to me.

She goes on to say, “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters. But most believers are not creationists.” I expect it’s true that the few believers Libby Purves meets over canapés are not creationists. But “most believers”? Most believers in Bradford? The Scottish Highlands? Pakistan? Indonesia? The Arab world? South America? Indeed, North America? Polls suggest that more than 40 per cent of the British population are creationists. For the subset who call themselves believers, the figure must be considerably more than 50 per cent. Please don’t say “most people”, when what you really mean is Islington and Hampstead Garden Suburb.

Well, stop there Dawkins. “Polls suggest..” What polls? Please don’t say “polls suggest” when what you are really presenting sounds like made up numbers.

Most people know bugger all about evolution, let alone have views on it.

But, assuming that Libby Purves is talking about the UK, most people that I know who have any views on evolution take it for granted. In fact, I have never knowingly come across an outspoken creationist. And I certainly don’t live in Islington or Hampstead. Nor would I recognise a canape if it leaped off a silver salver and bit me on the nose. In fact, as a non-Islington-resident prole, I sort of resent the implication that proles are stupider than the rich.

Anglicans and Catholics don’t have any problem with the theory of evolution, for a start. So the mainstream UK religions aren’t encouraging people to doubt it. South America? Big place. Mostly Catholic, so I assume that evolution is generally accepted there.

What’s left? Basically North America and Islam. I don’t know enough about the many shades of Islam to judge on this one, although I am pretty confident that most muslims are as unknowing and uninterested in evlutionary theory as most other people. I do think I know that North America is bursting with people who don’t understand accept evolution.

I have to agree with Libby Purves when she said “OK, he is provoked, as we all are, by nutters.” I completely agree with Dawkins that there more than enough of these idiots and that they have to be opposed. But, I don’t think it’s always wise to help them talk up their anti-science madness by presenting a false dichotomy between accepting science and believing in deities. It’s accepting the terms of reference of the creationists, their idea that there is a “debate” between ID and evolution.

This “debate” can only benefit the nutters. Scientists don’t have to accommodate the creation myths of the vikings or the yoruba by constantly “debating” whether evolution or the mixture of fire and ice or the formation of dry land from water is true. (In fact, these myths seem far more logical and metaphorically “true” than the middle eastern creation myths.) Why waste too much time and effort challenging the myths that come from the middle east?

Still, whines over. Bloody good tv overall, to be honest.

The Atheist Thirteen

It has been a while, but it seems we’ve been hit by another “meme” – this time it is the Atheist Thirteen from Nullifidian. For anyone who has already read Null’s post, I must apologise that a lot of the responses are similar.

(Null, if you read this – why is it called “Atheist 13″ when there are 10 questions?)

Rules: If you’d like to take part, copy these questions, and answer them in your own words on your own blog.

Q1. How would you define “atheism”?

“A lack of belief in anything divine.”

Q2. Was your upbringing religious? If so, what tradition?

Not at all. While Religious Education at school talked about the various religions there was never anything resembling a serious effort to convince me any particular religion was more valid than any other (or even more valid than no-religion at all). This is the case even though I went to Church Sunday school for quite a time.

Q3. How would you describe “Intelligent Design”, using only one word?


Q4. What scientific endeavour really excites you?

Astrophysics and related disciplines – astronomy, space travel etc. (I only picked astrophysics because Null beat me to Astronomy).

Q5. If you could change one thing about the “atheist community”, what would it be and why?

I’d like people to stop talking about an “atheist community” as if it were a homogeneous group that shared more than a single idea. I cant think of any real meaning of “community” that seems to apply to the global network of atheists.

Q6. If your child came up to you and said “I’m joining the clergy”, what would be your first response?

“That’s nice, dear. Would you like a cup of tea?”

Q7. What’s your favourite theistic argument, and how do you usually refute it?

God is really kind and benevolent but if you dont bow to his ever wish, no matter how capricious, you will suffer worse punishment than you can imagine for all of eternity. It is self refuting unless the person is a genuine idiot – and then it isnt worth refuting. Just wait until they forget to breathe and die.

Q8. What’s your most “controversial” (as far as general attitudes amongst other atheists goes) viewpoint?

That there isn’t an Atheist Community.

Q9. Of the “Four Horsemen” (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris) who is your favourite, and why?

Dawkins because, although I used to hate him, he has grown on me. I like his “posh English scientist” TV demeanour. Hitchens is too arty and there isn’t enough scientific rigour in his comments. Harris really annoys me and I don’t know Dennett well enough.

Q10. If you could convince just one theistic person to abandon their beliefs, who would it be?

The Pope, because it would be a MAJOR achievement… (Unless he is, as I sometimes suspect, not really a Catholic).

Now name three other atheist blogs that you’d like to see take up the Atheist Thirteen gauntlet:

This is always the hard part. There are zillions of good atheist blogs but tagging them all would be close to insane. There are a lot of good ones who will be annoyed if they are tagged and a lot of good ones who will be annoyed if they aren’t tagged. For this, almost insurmountable, challenge I have picked three from our blogrolls at random:

  1. The gorgeously designed and always entertaining “X is …
  2. The Snarling and Growling “Grumpy Lion
  3. The militant Bligbi.

Please don’t be upset if you have been missed out – if you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged. Likewise, if you are one of the three above and don’t want to be tagged, I am OK with that.

Forced Faith

Is it right to force people to go through the motions of belief even if they do not hold that belief?

On last Friday’s Faith Central it seems Libby Purves is of the opinion that forcing people to pretend to believe, even if they don’t is better than nothing. Writing about a group of Oxford scholars who have refused to say grace (even though they have accepted a scholarship to a largely religious college) she notes:

But now – reports Cherwell - a prim contingent say they won’t, because they aren’t believers. The Chaplain replies sharply “The personal beliefs of the individual are incidental…There seems to be some confusion about the difference between personal and public prayer, the individual and the role. The scholar/exhibitioner is asked to recite the grace, it is a personal matter whether they also pray it.”

Blimey.  Now call me old fashioned but this seems like “forced” observance and somewhat flies in the face of the idea of the whole thing. If it is simply a matter of words, why does any one care? Is the ritual of observance actually more important than the persons beliefs or is this a sneaky way of trying to convert people? Who knows.

Libby seems incensed by this and comes to an amazing simile:

Frankly, if Professor Richard Dawkins can admit to singing Christmas carols with gusto (“O come let us adore Him”),   it is hard to see why these  clever young things make such a meal of a few words of general gratitude.

By Toutatis! Is singing a Christmas carol with “gusto” really the same as being forced to say grace? We seem to have an issue (as one of the commenters points out) where Libby fails to understand the difference between choice and compulsion. This neatly sidesteps the madness which places the two acts in the same category in the first place!

The piece concludes with this:

Nobody forced them to apply to a 453-year-old institution (there are other Oxford colleges) nor to accept the scholarship when it was offered. It would be brave and principled to refuse the honour and the money on grounds of atheism.  This is neither.

Well, while I sort of agree – they chose which college they went to – I dont really agree. The award of the scholarship is not based on a persons religious choice, so why does it force an act of observance? I am reasonably sure that the “pious” people who provided the donations which make the scholarship possible would be more upset that non-believers are there than people aren’t going through the motions of grace. I am really surprised that so many “devout” people would rather have lip service paid than faith exist.

Another one of the comments on the times blog poses an interesting question. If the scholars were forced to say “I renounce the Holy Spirit” would the church be happy with that? They wouldn’t have to believe it, just say the words…

Atheism, Faith and Idiotic Confusion

It seems that all the PR work by Dawkins, Hitchens, PZ Myers, Harris et al., is still not fully driving home the message of what atheism is and what atheism means. Part of me feels that, for all the good intentions in the world this is something they will never achieve, and a small part of me feels that “organised” atheism is seriously a step in the wrong direction.

At its most basic level, being an atheist implies nothing about a persons intelligence, rationality, political leaning, attitude towards others, scientific literacy, education (and so on). All being an atheist means is the person does not believe in gods. Nothing else. Al Kafir Akbar is a recent example of an atheist who is not rational, intelligent or scientifically literate (and I dread to think what his political leaning is… :-) ). Campaigns such as the “Scarlet A” and “Brights” are, IMHO of course, eventually doomed to failure as the differences between any two atheists start to far outweigh their single shared characteristic. In the past people have mooted ideas such as atheists becoming “politicised,” will such a thing ever work? Would you, for example, vote for a raving right / left (depending on your own orientation) lunatic simply based on his atheism?

For me, the worrying thing about all this – along with the growing sycophancy which surrounds the more prominent atheists (Dawkins lost a bit of support when he dropped a clanger and used the term “Jewish,” but the others still get the hero worship…) – is that it starts to scream “religion.” I am sure everyone remembers election campaigns where one church or another pledges the support of its followers to Politician X because of his beliefs, as soon as the prominent atheists pledge their support (and the support of their sycophants, followers, readers) to a politician because s/he is an atheist the final difference will be gone [*].

In recent months, the furore over the the Scarlet A struck cynical old me as if people were starting to demand an atheist doctrine which was going to be laid down by the high priest (pontifex maximus? We all know where that took us…). People who disagreed with PZ Myers over the “A” for example, were savaged (online, rather than a visit to the lion enclosure) and for one reason or another, large numbers of atheists have fallen in line and display the A on their sites. Now, I must stress, I do not think this is a bad thing in general. If you want to put an A on your site to denote you are an atheist, great. I think it is really cool. I am concerned about the process which brought this about though.

Reading through the ever entertaining times online today, I came across an article by “Dolan Cummings” in the “Battle for Ideas” section. Titled “Count me out of atheism’s creed,” this article expresses some of the points of view I am trying to make, but mostly in a more readable manner… I found this bit quite relevant: (emphasis mine)

From attempts to popularise the term ‘bright’ as a positive identity to calls for atheists to be included on the roster of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’, it seems that some want to establish atheism as an alternative, non-religious camp for people to belong to. But atheism itself ought to be the least interesting thing about atheists, who surely have various and often conflicting beliefs and passions of their own.

Everyone who writes for this blog is an atheist, yet Heather and I have (at times) viewpoints which are at polar opposites. Calling us “atheists” with an implied commonality of purpose seems to gloss over that. If you search around the various atheist blogs, there are mountains of interesting, entertaining and educational blogs – all written by atheists. There are also lots (sadly too many on the blogroll now) of blogs which are little more than people shouting “I am an atheist” over and over.

For a long time people (famous or otherwise) have been trying to get the unthinking masses to realise that atheism is not a religion, chanting is as a mantra sets that task back considerably. If people want to challenge irrational belief then it needs to be done with logic and reason, not with formulating a “counter-church” for people to rally around. Take this idiotic comment on the Dolan Cummings’ article:

Atheism is not non-belief – it’s active faith in the non-existence of God – an unprovable hypothesis. Atheism is just another religion. Richard, Colchester, UK

Pure stupidity. Sadly, as atheism becomes more of an “active” process, people may start to think this even more.

Before I finish, I think I should stress I am not a supporter of the quisling atheists who seem to think religion should be tolerated and pandered to. Religion (any) does not deserve special status or special treatment. Irrational idiocy should be challenged at every juncture. I love to read Sam Harris, Pharyngula, Dawkins et al. I agree with an awful lot of what they have to say. However, there is no holy doctrine of atheism and I do reserve the right to disagree with the prominent spokespersons when they are (IMHO) wrong.

The greatest challenge for atheism is learning how to “cure” people of religion, without becoming a religion. Are people up to that task yet?

* I am more than aware that the chances of a prominent public figure in either the US or UK coming out as an atheist is close to zero at this time, the future may be different. Also, rather than the politician being an atheist per se, s/he could simply espouse atheist-friendly policies.

Best friends forever

What is it about dogs? The evidence suggests that the human race is bent on getting revenge on the dog species for our traditional fear of wolves.

A true horror story involving a 5-year-old girl and an abused dog that killed her has made chunks of the news unwatchable since New Year’s Eve. This story has come to an end with the acquittal of her grandmother for negligent manslaughter but “killer dogs” still remain an issue.

Dog fighting is an underground activity for which dogs are specifically bred and “trained” Banned dogs sometimes get seized, whenever there is spurt of public concern. The dogs usually get killed, unsurprisingly, given that they have been turned into blameless homicide machines. In that particular story, it is claimed that:

Two dogs, described as dangerous by the USPCA, training equipment and manuals were seized in the Village area.
The raids followed information received after a recent Spotlight/Panorama programme.
The 17-month investigation uncovered 15 illegal dog fighting gangs in Northern Ireland.

15? In Northern Ireland? Population? According to Wikipedia, it has the population of reasonable-sized city, 1,710,300.

I suppose dog-fighting is a minor misdemeanour in a place where murder and kneecapping are everyday experiences. Still, 15 dog-fighting gangs seems a high number for what you would hope was very much a minority interest, given that they would also need a pretty sizeable supporting population of willing attenders at dog-fights.

I am not suggesting the Northern Irish are any more psychopathic than the general population of the UK, here. Where I live, the number of dogs that exist solely to look brutal when snarling at the leashes of would-be “gangstas” almost defies belief.

I don’t want to go down the route of rightly-discredited Freudian bullshit here but I will anyway. The way that people use dogs speaks too loudly about their own feelings about being male or female. Or, more precisely, their fear of not being “masculine” or “feminine” enough to fit the current stereotypes.

The cupiditous-moron-model female carries about an offensively “cute” mini-child dog, with a bow on its head. She’s saying “Look at me. I’m so cute and cuddly and loving. And I’m so appealingly childlike that I carry round a living teddy.”

The would-be-tough-brute-model male drags around a creature that looks as if it’s been dragged up from the Hammer-horror pits of hell. He’s saying “Look at me. I’m so macho and tough that only I can handle this rabid cur. I’m basically an animal myself.”

Yes, it’s tragically pathetic, but I also suspect that it shows why getting ever greater control over human reproduction is potentially very dangerous. We are basically not a very rational species.

If dogs had the level of rationality that we (often mistakenly) imagine that humans have, they would be cursing those ancestral wolves who traded life with their own packs for the easy pickings they could get from allying themselves to our species.

Does anyone else feel unnerved seeing our species gaining more and more control over what our descendants become, when they see what a dog’s breakfast we’ve made of the humble dog? In this context, there was a very short Sunday Herald article by Dawkins that I really have to take issue with. He was makinga point that the association of Hitler with eugenics shouldn’t in itself stop us contemplating it. He said that

But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as “these are not one-dimensional abilities” apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

There are two points here. Firstly, humans generally do breed selectively and always have. We just use criteria of appearance and similarity of interests, etc., to make those “choices.” These choices are already often bad enough. But at least, nature mixes up our DNA to throw up unexpected results. It’s evolution in action.

But, as a more specific argument against even greater deliberate human control over reproduction, I am suggesting that the evidence of the dog, in itself (bred now for its bizarre appearance or its assumed willingness to fight, rather than its herding skills) answers this question well enough.

We are humans. Even the brightest and most well-meaning of us have only the vaguest idea about the long-term consequences of our actions. Our own species is quite disturbed enough already.

Channelling Dawkins

Dawkins latest programme elegantly put lots of the same points that I ineptly failed to make in any comprehensible manner, in a previous post on holistic medicine. That includes paying for other people’s gullibility; alternative therapies meeting a need for attention; the placebo effect and alternative therapies referring to scientific sounding concepts; and so on. (You know who you are, Deepak Chopra)

This blog is clearly channelling Dawkins. If you need any chakra realignment, you can probably get it here from now on.

Today’s episode of the Enemies of Reason series has people promoting such odd theories that Dawkins only has to smile politely and give them enough rope…. Indeed, some express such utterly strange beliefs that the only charitable explanation is that they are joking

Atlantean DNA? A woman barefacedly told the world’s best known evolutionary biologist that bits of his DNA were missing. She then waved her hands about – in a surprisingly graceless manner, given the magical ritual context – to realign the missing parts of Dawkins Atlantean DNA. I guess it worked but he didn’t grow any visible gills, sadly.

However, the therapist who seemed to be using a pricing gun to stamp the back of Dawkins neck may have accidentally amputated them, so don’t take that as a certainty.

I’ve made sense of this bit now. I was half-hoping to see Dawkins turn into an extra from that ten – or so- years old sci-fi series that was like old-style Battlestar Galactica but underwater. Without Silons. But with gills. It wasn’t good enough for me to remember its name. Stargate Atlantis – exponentially better. Why didn’t I think of that?

Well, it doesn’t really have people with gills. Anyway, the new even-more-gentlemanly-and-mellow Dawkins couldn’t even begin to qualify for the “arrogant genius” part in Atlantis, despite there being an Internet’s worth of creationists and others who think Dawkins is arrogant.

But maybe that’s what the magical Atlantean DNA lady meant. Dawkins is lacking the extra strain of arrogance that Stargate Atlantis’s Canadian genius has. So she put it back. And there are no gills to see, so there.

(See, it does all make perfect sense when you cleanse your DNA and start channelling……)

You have to worry a bit about the state of current medical education, when you see how many qualified doctors-turned-alternative practitioners Dawkins has managed to find.

One doctor detects chakras as “black holes” in the human body (or vice versa or something like that.) Another doctor – rheumatologist turned alternative practitioner – gives out water in the Royal Homeopathic Hospital, which has had a fair bit of public cash, to Dawkins’ justified annoyance.

If you live outside the UK, you can probably watch the new series on YouTube until it comes to a cable channel near you. Black Sun Journal has a link to the last episode.

Mellow Dawkins challenges New Age

The Enemies of Reason (UK Channel 4) is Dawkins’ measured attack on post-enlightenment relativism, in its New Age “spirituality” variants. He sees it as a failure of education that we are increasingly coming to treat personal feelings as superior to reason. Views that would have been dismissed as ignorant tales for the credulous a hundred years ago are socially widespread now.

Dawkins’ arguments are pretty unassailable. He presents them in a gentle way, the more remarkable because a few of his targets are engaged in the most dangerous forms of woo – spiritualists offering false comfort to the grief-stricken; alternative medical practitioners who can just provide gestures to the sick.

All the same, most of the people Dawkins talks to are polite and happy to engage in discussion and even experiment, which makes a pleasant change from the polarised debates that normally characterise this sort of debate.

Dawkins points out the ironies that triumphs of science and reason, such as the Internet, are being put to the service of irrationality – with bizarre conspiracy theories and fundamentalism being spread through the Net much more easily than they would have before it came into existence.

Answering those people who claim that logic is cold and empties the universe of meaning, Dawkins makes the point that the real universe is infinitely fascinating. His enthusiasm for the real world makes most of the ersatz magic workers

This is the strange thing about woo. It starts from a position that the real world is dull. This perspective is very hard to grasp and certainly must be a failure of our education system. The real universe is miraculous. It is always stranger than we can ever grasp. Surely, the effort of using our feeble human consciousness to understand ourselves and the nature of the universe provides enough meaning for our whole species.

Reason on TV

The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker returns to form after his recent spate of lame Big Brother-centred columns and pulled out all the stops for Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins’ new programme is on tomorrow in the UK. It’s called The Enemies of Reason and it’s on Channel 4 at 8 p.m.

Charlie Brooker’s in no doubt about how important the arguments in this programme are. He complains about the growing influence of irrationality and applauds Dawkins for trying to stem the tide. As you expect from Charlie Brooker, at his best, he expresses this beautifully.

I’ve lifted a couple of paragraphs here but it’s well worth reading.

If it wasn’t for the Enlightenment, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. You’d be standing in a smock throwing turnips at a witch. Yes, the Enlightenment was one of the most significant developments since the wheel. Which is why we’re trying to bollocks it all up…..
Everywhere you look, screaming gittery is taking root, with serious consequences. The NHS recently spent £10m refurbishing the London Homeopathic Hospital. The equivalent of 500 nurses’ wages, blown on a handful of magic beans.

And watch Dawkins of course.

New enemy of reason?

Melanie Phillips discusses Dawkin’s new series in the Daily Mail, today. She starts by agreeing with Dawkins about New Age woo, but, then, oddly argues that this has become popular because reason-based Christian faith (no, really) has declined. The title:

Arrogance, dogma and why science – not faith – is the new enemy of reason

If you’ve ever read the G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown books, this was a constant theme. Ironic, when the voice of reason was a fictional Catholic priest invented by an extreme right-winger. Bizarre when the voice of reason is a Daily Mail columnist.

Echoing my thoughts about where she got the idea from, Mel P refers to Father Brown:

It was GK Chesterton who famously quipped that “when people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything.” So it has proved. But how did it happen?

So, her argument here is believe in the biggest myth so you don’t believe in the little myths, like aromatherapy? In that case, so far, the little myths have much less blood on their hands. So, in soem ways, New Age nonsense might be a slight improvement – if equally as absurd and even more self-obsessed than traditional religions.

No, as it turns out, for Melanie Phillips, it’s non-believers who are irrational.

The big mistake is to see religion and reason as polar opposites. They are not. In fact, reason is intrinsic to the Judeo-Christian tradition

Ranting about Dawkin’s opposition to belief in miracles leads her down some wierd logically inconsistent alleyways.

E.g. The Judeo-Christian churches are based on truth. However, the Biblical miracles are just metaphor or misunderstanding…. Oh, so not actually truth, as such, then?

The culmination seems to be that science can’t tell us anything because it leads to “scientism” a dubious “ism” that may have been invented for the purpses of the column.

The most conspicuous example of this is provided by Dawkins himself, who breaks the rules of scientific evidence by seeking to claim that Darwin’s theory of evolution – which sought to explain how complex organisms evolved through random natural selection – also accounts for the origin of life itself.

OK, my level of science knowledge is rudimentary, at best, but I am pretty certain that the Big Bang doesn’t feature in any consideration of the theory of evolution.

The BBC’s fascinating new Atoms series mentioned last week that Fred Hoyle disliked the Big Bang Theory on the grounds that to him, as an atheist, the idea smacked too much of the Hand of God.

Dare I suggest that Mel P watched the same programme? And understood even less of the physics than I did? So the mention of atheism and Big Bang in the same sentence got them confused in her mind? So she assumed that physicist was approximately equal to biologist? And that Dawkins was somehow involved in promoting the Big Bang theory?

Wait, here’s the punchline. From the flawlessly logical mental processes of Mel P, here comes Intelligent Design, the REAL SCIENCE..

Moreover, since science essentially takes us wherever the evidence leads, {My intrusive comment= does anyone else get a whiff of CSI dialogue here?} the findings of more than 50 years of DNA research – which have revealed the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life – have thrown into doubt the theory that life emerged spontaneously in a random universe.

These findings have given rise to a school of scientists promoting the theory of Intelligent Design, which suggests that some force embodying purpose and foresight lay behind the origin of the universe.

And blimey, those brave truth-seekers are being hounded for their beliefs….

……people such as Prof Dawkins and others have gone to great lengths to stop it being advanced at all, on the grounds that it denies scientific evidence such as the fossil record and is therefore worthless.
Yet distinguished scientists have been hounded and their careers jeopardised for arguing that the fossil record has got a giant hole in it. …

Oh, this magical power of Dawkins to say who gets academic jobs everywhere …. There’s no point in discussing the ins and outs of this stuff in detail. Let me just say “Distinguished scientists stifled for speaking the truth, my arse” and leave it at that.

their scientific argument about the absence of evidence to support the claim that life spontaneously created itself is being stifled – on the totally perverse grounds that this argument does not conform to the rules of science which require evidence{my emphasis} to support a theory.
As a result of such arrogance, the West – the crucible of reason – is turning the clock back to a pre-modern age of obscurantism, dogma and secular witch-hunts.

Irony laid upon irony, to form a pretty solid mattress of irony that even the most sensitive princess could get a good night’s sleep on.

Secular witch-hunts? As opposed to the real witch-hunts that ended up with people dead. And were definitely not secular. Hmm, what’s the opposite of secular?

Dogma? Hmm, if I could be bothered to look in a dictionary, I’m pretty certain it would define dogma as a set of prescribed beliefs that are part of a religion. Religion, please note.

OK, maybe she’s doing the metaphorical thing she talked about. She does say that believers don’t have to actually believe the stuff. They can treat metaphor as truth and it’s still true. But, isn’t that treating a Holy Book as just another work of fiction? Which makes perfect sense to me. Though, I somehow suspect that really isn’t what she wants to say.

All the same, it’s pretty priceless that the metaphors she has to use when she wants to talk about intolerance and blindness and stifling independent thought are all straight from the history of religion?