Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.


Narcissus leaves the pool

Feb 22nd, 2012 4:49 pm | By

Some goon was sniping at FTB on Twitter the other day – stupid snipey generalizations that have nothing to do with reality. Why would anyone even bother sniping at FTB in general? We’re not all the same, so what can one say that will be true? We all post in English, mostly. Anything else? We all sleep with our eyes closed? We all eat food and drink water?

Anyway, the stupidest tweet said “narcissism is near a sine qua non for blogging at FtB.”

Oh yes? Why?

No seriously, why? Why more than any other group of bloggers, or just any other blogger? What’s so narcissistic about everyone at FTB?

(Note: I always spell it FTB, because Thought is a full-size word, not a mini-word like “the” which doesn’t get a capital letter in titles. Most people spell it FtB, I guess because Freethought is one word in the title.)

What’s so narcissistic about everyone at FTB? Nothing in particular that I know of. We all have our share, no doubt, but so do lots of people; why is narcissism a particular sin of FTB’s?

I don’t think it is. I think that was just one of those “whatever comes to hand” snipes, that don’t bother with accuracy.

But it pisses me off, because if we’re narcissistic just because we write blogs, then almost everything is narcissistic – gardening, writing poetry, playing football, composing music, decorating, scholarship, research – anything. It’s a nasty stupid small-minded little jeer at anyone having the gall to try to do something. It’s that “what makes you think you’re so special?” that a certain type likes to use to squelch everything but the blamelessly ordinary.

And because it’s a crock. I’ve thought of another thing we all have in common, and that is that we’re interested in things. Not just ourselves, but things external to ourselves. That’s why we write blogs, I think, most or all of us. (I can’t think of any exceptions.) We’re not exceptionally interested in our precious selves, we’re interested in the world. Yes it’s true that writing a blog involves one in the presumption of offering something for other people to read – but what is so terrible about that? Why does it deserve to be called narcissistic? (That’s the only reason I can think of for calling us that.) Should everyone everywhere stop offering things for other people to read or listen to or watch or play, thus ending narcissism?

The hell with that. The hell with sniping and spite and belittling. Only narcissists do that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



About us – except for who we are

Feb 22nd, 2012 10:12 am | By

Ben Goldacre wondered aloud on Twitter why it’s impossible to find out who is behind “Coalition for Marriage.” Why is it a secret?

Good question. What’s up with that? If you have a cause, why be secretive about it?

It’s a stupid “cause,” I must say.

The Coalition draws upon a substantial body of evidence showing that marriage – as it has been understood for thousands of years – is beneficial to society, and that changing its definition would undermine that benefit.

Except that marriage hasn’t been “understood” that way (they obviously mean one woman and one man) for thousands of years. The imbeciles are forgetting polygamy.

Well maybe that’s why they don’t want us to know who they are. They’re sekrit imbeciles.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



What we talk about when we talk about blogging

Feb 21st, 2012 5:59 pm | By

A conversation among FTBers has (by a circuitous route, as is often the case) ended up in a discussion of the weirdness of the interpersonal dynamics of blogging – of the kinds and degrees of intimacy that can be created, and whether they’re an illusion or not.

I think the usual view is a brisk, “healthy,” matter of fact view that any sense of intimacy is an illusion, as is any sense of liking or friendship that may develop over time. That’s not my view. My view is pretty much the opposite, which is that it’s not an illusion at all, and that there are perfectly good reasons for this.

I was prompted to say some of this in the discussion after someone else mentioned that the person you see on a blog is not the whole person. That of course is true (ding ding! body missing! key ingredient of whole person!), but it’s also a little misleading. Yes of course you don’t get the whole person, but in a way you get a lot more of the person than you would in real life except in the most intense of relationships. In real life people don’t just sit around and listen to us blather on uninterrupted for two or three or ten minutes, but when we blog, they do. That too is not “whole” conversation; real conversation is full of interruptions and false starts, and laughter and gestures; but that’s just it – real conversation in real time in real life doesn’t allow for the kind of extended discussion you can have on a blog (or discussion board and the like).

This thought is probably more true for people who like to write and to whom it feels natural – but then so does blogging, I would think.

I would blather on uninterrupted more now but I have eleventy seven things to do so I have to go do them. Your turn to blather uninterrupted.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Former archbishop (ret’d) in Daily Mail

Feb 21st, 2012 10:08 am | By

The former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said, in an article for the Daily Mail, that the proposal to change the status of marriage ”constitutes one of the greatest political power grabs in history.”

The state does not ‘own’ the institution of marriage. Nor does the church.

The honourable estate of matrimony precedes both the state and the church, and neither of these institutions have [sic] the right to redefine it in such a fundamental way.

So who should? Lexicographers?

Whatever. There’s a poll, and the yes everyone should have the right to get married no matter what their sexuality answer is winning by an avalanche. Maybe that’s who gets to redefine the honourable estate of matrimony: people who vote in polls at the Telegraph.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Because Afghans have nothing more important to fret about

Feb 21st, 2012 9:28 am | By

Because Afghanistan is so peaceful and safe and prosperous, such a paradise of equality and freedom and happiness, people there have leisure to get wildly upset and furious when some books are accidentally sent to the incinerator in a consignment of waste paper.

US and Nato forces have rushed  to apologise for discarding and possibly burning copies of the Qur’an, as thousands of furious Afghans gathered to protest outside Bagram military airbase.

Some carried ancient hunting rifles and others used slingshots to pelt the outer walls of the airbase with stones for several hours, despite the bitter cold, shouting “down with America” and other slogans.

The crowd swelled to as much as three thousand, and police stationed on roads leading to the base turned back other would-be protesters from further away, according to General Mohammad Akram Bekzad, Parwan province’s police chief.

Because that’s the biggest problem Afghanistan has - a few copies of a printed book being accidentally destroyed.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Justin finds another consignment of atheist-bashing

Feb 20th, 2012 5:16 pm | By

One Reverend Bryan Griem, writing to the Pasadena Sun:

Look, you just read the stats: “Researchers have found that spiritual people have decreased odds of attempting suicide, and that spiritual fitness has a positive impact on quality of life, on coping and on mental health.” Atheists be damned. They will be. So I really don’t care what they think regarding these tests. I’m tired of having their constant nagging, their constant opposition against God — their evil. They contribute nothing positive in the long run. Their very name, “a” theist, means they are “against,” with a big “no” regarding America’s “creator” and “Nature’s God” (the one mentioned in our Declaration of Independence). I’m frankly sick of them. Why they are here on the In Theory cast is beyond me. It’s like saying, “I have no spiritual input because I don’t believe in the spirit. So here’s my ignorance….”

I wonder what the military puts on gravestones of atheists, a thumbs-down? Listen, all religions are protected by our laws, but atheists don’t countenance America’s documents that mention God. They don’t actually deserve rights that even bizarre religionists have. If it could be shown that people who deny God create military weakness, however small, what should commanders do when choosing a winning military?

Whee-ew. We’ll be damned. We’re evil. We contribute nothing positive. We don’t deserve rights.

Well at least he’s a civilian, so Justin can safely ignore him.

Justin’s post.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



It’s only 50 thousand pounds

Feb 20th, 2012 10:57 am | By

Those times when news stories read like stories from The Onion…

Like the BBC’s report of the MP who said “sorry” for not mentioning a financial interest while arguing for something that would do that financial interest a lot of good.

Conservative MP and ministerial aide Mark Simmonds has apologised for failing to make clear an interest when speaking in favour of the NHS shake-up…

The MPs’ register of interest shows he is paid £50,000 a year as a strategic adviser to Circle Healthcare.

Mr Simmonds told MPs he wanted to apologise for “inadvertently” failing to declare his interest.

He made his statement during a Point of Order. Although he had correctly declared his interest in the register of interests, he did not mention it – as MPs should – when speaking in the debates on the Health and Social Care Bill in January and March last year.

Oh, oops.

Ben Goldacre had a good time with that on Twitter.

“MP apologises for health firm interests” http://bbc.in/w4TEEq HEY DUDE! It’s easy to forget £50k…

I  LOST FIFTY THOUSAND QUID DOWN THE BACK OF MY SOFA THE OTHER WEEK. srsly, we could all do it.

really, i don’t think that guy should beat himself up about forgetting FIFTY THOUSAND POUNDS. could happen to any one of us. move on. srsly.

it’s just, you know, fifty thousand pounds for advising the first private company to run an NHS hospital. that’s all. no biggy.

look, srsrly: it’s only a thousand pounds a week, twice the average wage, for “Advice”. just.. stop going on about it.

Quite right. Let’s have a little trust in the integrity of our elected officials, shall we?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Up for a prize

Feb 20th, 2012 10:13 am | By

Good morning girls and boys, it’s time for Monday’s entries in the “What Week-old Dead Fish Can We Throw at Richard Dawkins Today?” contest.

A big round of applause for Mary Ann Sieghart at The Independent, who wastes no time but gets to the vulgar abuse right out of the gate.

The Church of England couldn’t hope for a better enemy than Richard Dawkins. Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant, he displays exactly the character traits that could do with some Christian mellowing. In fact, he’s almost an advertisement against atheism. You can’t help thinking that a few Sundays in the pews and the odd day volunteering in a Church-run soup kitchen might do him the power of good.

That’s some professional journalism, wouldn’t you say? Informative, accurate, well-documented, carefully verified, reasoned, impartial – everything you expect of a quality newspaper. It’s great to have journalists telling us exactly how much they hate hate hate this one public figure instead of frittering away their talents on actually saying something of substance. I look forward to the day when journalists start telling us about this kid who pissed them off in the third grade.

And by the way I can very easily help thinking that a few Sundays in the pews and the odd day volunteering in a Church-run soup kitchen might do him the power of good. What I really can’t help thinking is that Mary Ann Sieghart is a shameless slanderous hack who ought to be demoted to covering dog shows.

And that’s not a lazy cliché

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha – that’s a good one.

And that’s not a lazy cliché; for the power of good is what the Church in this country exemplifies. It’s by no means true of all religions at all times – far from it – but here and now we are extraordinarily lucky to have the established Church we have. The Church of England is broadly charitable, open, welcoming, tolerant, compassionate and undogmatic.

Only up to a point – and only because it is so comparatively powerless. It’s that, to the extent that it is, only because it has been forced to be – by secularism and by secular influences, mostly.

But it still has its bishops in the House of Lords. That’s still a little sliver of theocracy; it’s still a bad arrangement.

The great thing about the Church of England is that it couldn’t be less militant. If anything, people criticise it for being too meek and mild. Personally I prefer a Church that is forgiving and undogmatic…

Really? Then why the row of personally insulting labels at the beginning of the piece?

“Gently and assuredly”, said the Queen, the Church has created such an environment in this country. I like those adverbs.

See above.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



In a couple of weeks

Feb 19th, 2012 5:44 pm | By

Meanwhile…see that top banner in the right margin, the one above Rock Beyond Belief? Moving Secularism Forward? I’m a speaker at that. Orlando is kind of far away from everything except Florida, but I’m hoping some people will turn up anyway.

It’s a great lineup.

Daniel C. Dennett, Sir Harold Kroto, PZ Myers, Russell Blackford, Stephen Law, Rita Swan, Anthony Pinn, Victor Stenger, Elisabeth Cornwell, Eddie Tabash, Lionel Tiger, Ronald Bailey, Razib Khan, Jamila Bey, Sikivu Hutchinson, David Silverman, Bill Cooke, Steven K. Green, Ellenbeth Wachs, Ronald A. Lindsay, Debbie Goddard and Tom Flynn.

The following weekend I’m at QED in Manchester.

QED has a blog post about Maryam.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



And now for some good Twitter jokes

Feb 19th, 2012 11:14 am | By

Martin Robbins@mjrobbins And here is The Telegraph’s Charles Moore in 2005 attacking Blair for apologizing for slavery http://tgr.ph/AeDOiu

plus

So according to the Telegraph, you shouldn’t hold guilt for your ancestors’ actions, unless you’re Richard Dawkins. Neat.

David Aaronovitch@DAaronovitch

The Telegraph attack on Dawkins for having slave-trading forebears two centuries back, is wonderfully bizarre. Mad, really.

plus

Information is invited on ancestral sins, going back three centuries, of Telegraph editors, sundry bishops and Tory politicians. #pastsins

plus

Re Telegraph outing of past Dawkins, I have to confess to being descended from Sir Darcy O’Ronovitch of the Hellfire Club, hanged in 1782.

Mr Roger Quimbly@RogerQuimbly

According to Richard Dawkins, the Sunday Telegraph is descended from a newspaper.

Jonathan Haynes@JonathanHaynes

Next week in the Sunday Telegraph: how Richard Dawkins is descended from Adam and Eve, even though he calls himself an atheist!

David Allen Green@JackofKent

Bonkers Telegraph article on Dawkins’ ancestors: http://tgr.ph/wvU4aq They will be saying he is descended from apes next.

plus

RT @Crofton_Parker: @JackofKent can’t wait until Telegraph does article explaining how British royal family amassed its wealth and power.

Matt F@flayman

Richard Dawkins is descended from Cain, a man who murdered his own brother, it has been revealed. http://qako.me/wwz6Ft

 Sir Keith de Lard@keithlard

“So Richard Dawkins’ family used to own slaves?” Yup. “But not him personally?” No. “Well, that blows evolution out of the water for me.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Look out, he’s got a whip

Feb 19th, 2012 10:35 am | By

And last item on your exciting breakfast menu, all items with complimentary orange slice and sprig of mint, the Daily Mail on Dawkins as sekrit descendant of slaveowners.

Never mind, don’t get excited, it’s just the Telegraph article, reported. It does add one stupidity of its own though -

Equality groups are now calling on him to apologise for his family’s past.

Are they? Really? Groups, plural? Independently of reporters phoning them and asking for a quote? Can you name as many as one?

Plus they added an illustration.

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

 captioned

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

Filthy. They’re a filthy crew. We knew that, but it’s worth saying anyway.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Argumentum ad haircut

Feb 19th, 2012 9:33 am | By

There’s a separate, unrelated hit piece on Dawkins in the Sunday Times, which I haven’t yet read because of the paywall, but a comment at RDF quotes from it, and that’s quite informative by itself.

I’ve just been reading an article in today’s (19/02/12) Sunday Times By Camilla Long. It’s the front page of the News Review section and has a photo of Richard on the front page of the section. It really is the most appalling article. The very first sentence gives a flavour of how it will go, “Richard Dawkins has an extremely unfortunate face in that he always looks angry, even when he is quite calm.” I don’t know who she met, or if she has even bothered looking at the photo that accompanies the article, but that is not a description I would recognise of Richard.

The whole article then has a series of slurs designed to belittle Richard, he has a “nibbly little voice”, he has a “thin smile”, he has a “slightly prissy manner”, he has a “crushing misanthropy”, he never just says any thing, he “retorts”, “fulminates”, “whinnies”, “shouts”, “scoffs”, “snapping”, “hoots”, “sneers”. An insinuation is made that he is “hideously pompous”, when he picks up a copy of the survey he “stalks over to the desk and snatches up a copy”. She even has a go at his haircut and the way he is dressed and his looks, saying he was “gnashing his tiny teeth”  and describing him as “complete with anorak, creased tie and grey hair cut into indignant little flaps”.

Jesus Christ. Hair cut into indignant little flaps? What on earth?

There’s just no end to it. It’s disgusting.

You know…I hate the pope, as you know. I hate him with a passion – but mostly because of his office. He’s clearly not the warmest or most comparatively-liberal pope there’s ever been, but so what, however nice the occupant may be, the office itself is a monstrosity. I hate the pope, but I’ve never picked on him for his looks. Of course that’s partly because I’m ugly as shit myself so it would be unbecoming and silly to rail at other people for being ugly – but that’s really not all. The main reason I don’t do that is because I think it’s shitty. I think people who do that are shitty. I think Camilla Long is shitty and I think the Sunday Times is shitty.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



The disgraceful Telegraph article on Dawkins

Feb 19th, 2012 9:03 am | By

The Telegraph hit piece on Dawkins is out (as many of you already know; it’s nearly 5 in the afternoon in the UK, while it’s only a fresh-faced nearly 9 in the morning here on the west coast of the US). It’s even worse than I expected it to be, and that’s saying something. It’s vicious slavering bullshit. It’s a disgrace to journalism.

He has railed against the evils of religion, and lectured the world on the virtues of atheism.

Now Richard Dawkins, the secularist campaigner against “intolerance and suffering”, must face an awkward revelation: he is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour.

It’s not “awkward.” We’re all descended from people who did bad shit. Count on it. God, just think, here’s me, a feminist, yet half of my ancestors are men!! Omigod that’s so awkward; how will I ever explain it?

There is no “estate”; there’s a farm. Everybody alive now depends partly on wealth created by forced labor.

He is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past.

Esther Stanford-Xosei, of Lewisham, south London, the co-vice chairman of the Pan-African Reparations Coalition in Europe, said: “There is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

“The words of the apology need to be backed by action. The most appropriate course would be for the family to fund an educational initiative telling the history of slavery and how it impacts on communities today, in terms of racism and fractured relationships.”

Ah, Adam Lusher, that’s naughty.

What he means is, he phoned Esther Stanford-Xosei and solicited that statement from her. The way he phrases it, it looks as if “calls” are coming spontaneously (despite the fact that this article is the first anyone has heard of this “revelation” apart from Richard’s account of Lusher’s obnoxious phone calls). That’s a sneaky journalistic trick, presenting their own “calls,” or “calls” that they’ve solicited for a story, as if they were independent. That trick borders on deceit; it borders on mendacity, not to say lying. It’s technically true but highly misleading. It’s contemptible. It shouldn’t be the job of journalism to play tricks of that kind.

There’s more, in other papers. This stuff has to be bitten off and chewed one by one.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



And another one, and more, and more

Feb 18th, 2012 5:08 pm | By

This one also from the Telegraph, by someone called Stephen Bayley (by which I mean, as you may remember, that I haven’t heard of him before, not that he’s obscure or beneath my lofty notice). It has no content, it’s just a brief volley of abuse.

…Richard Dawkins, a fanatic disguised as a scientist. And surely, in the powerful counterproductive sway of his noisy arguments, proof of the existence of God? Terrible to awake in that groggy matutinal state when things lodge in your addled brain and hear shrill, ugly, cruel arguments on the radio. Atheists seem to be very good at dogma. Dawkins seems not to understand that his own zealotry is itself a sort of religious quest. And he applies the “logic” of science, itself a fallible human construct, to a beautiful mystery. Sure, organised religion has caused appalling conflicts. But it has also caused Michelangelo, Milton and Bach. Organised atheism has produced North Korea. There is really not much more that needs to be said.

It’s dispiriting, seeing how willing and eager people are to say really filthy things about someone who doesn’t admire their religion. It’s dispiriting to see how eager the major media are to publish this kind of shit-throwing, and to commission more and more and more and more of it. It’s dispiriting to see that Andrew Brown has yet another entry, as inaccurate and intemperate and illiberal as the others. It’s dispiriting to see all this lying rage pouring out of people who should know better and published by media outlets that should do better. It’s stupid, it’s nasty, it’s coercive, it’s dishonest. It’s dispiriting.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Telegraph does research, discovers that Dawkins has ancestors

Feb 18th, 2012 4:41 pm | By

Well now that’s a new wrinkle – a Telegraph reporter phoning Dawkins to say, “Oi! Do you realize your ancestors owned slaves in Jamaica in the 18th century? What have you got to say to that? One was named Henry. They owned many slaves. Do you feel any guilt about it?” Then when Dawkins cuts the call short because it’s so stupid plus he has a lecture to prepare, the reporter phones back (despite having been dismissed, which seems quite ill-mannered) to say, “Natural selection has a lot to do with genes yeh? Well, some people might suggest that you could have inherited a gene for supporting slavery from Henry Dawkins.”

Did you ever? And that’s not even all of it. He dared Dawkins to deny Wilberforce was a Christian (and forgot to mention all the slave-owners who were Christians, he said Dawkins should make financial reparations, and he said the profit from the slaves probably paid for an “estate” belonging to Dawkins’s family, which in fact is a small struggling farm.

The reporter and reporters for all the UK media owe Dawkins quite a lot of money for all the pay they’ve been given for “researching” and writing this kind of dreck.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Beware the frumious bandersnatch

Feb 18th, 2012 10:13 am | By

Polly Toynbee thinks secularism is not such a terrible idea. She’s not completely persuaded by claims that secularism is ruining all the things.

…the faiths are glad to circle their wagons round [the queen] against the unbelievers. Each has their own divinely revealed unique truth, often provoking mortal conflict, Muslim v Copt, Catholic v Protestant, Hindu v Muslim or Sunni v Shia. But suddenly the believers are united in defence against the secular, willing to suspend the supremacy of their own prophets to agree that any religion, however alien, from elephant god to son of God, is better than none.

They can all feel their victimhood now, facing what Baroness Warsi called a rising tide of “militant secularisation” reminiscent of “totalitarian regimes”. Warsi on the warpath headed a delegation to the Vatican of six ministers, all agreeing the common enemy was not just the secularists but the “liberal elite”, too. How the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph loved wallowing in the CofE as victim against the rise of christianophobia, as if the waspish Prof Richard Dawkins had thrown them all to the lions.

And as if the Daily Mail and the Telegraph were powerless penniless orphans living in a gutter on crusts.

The prefix “aggressive” or “militant” is now super-glued to the word “secularist”, but as president of the British Humanist Association and honorary associate of the National Secular Society, I find nothing extreme about trying to keep religion separate from the state. Aggressive? You should see this week’s “burn in hell” messages to the BHA attacking “that spastic Hawking who denies God”, and many more obscene unprintables.

Or you could check out the stuff that gets thrown at Jessica Ahlquist, or Barbara J King’s standard-issue insults directed at Richard Dawkins, or any of a number of daily verbal attacks on secularists and atheists.

Rev Giles Fraser wielded a deft stiletto, accusing secularists of closet racism. “Attacking religious belief in general neatly fits alongside a hostility to Islam.” I am hostile to any religion if it ever cuts across civic freedoms, for its own people or for anyone who challenges it. Without causing gratuitous offence for the sake of it, there is a duty to stand by brave free-speech campaigners, such as Maryam Namazie, organiser for One Law for All. An anti-Sharia meeting was broken up last month at Queen Mary College. Police were called after a man came in, filmed the audience and said he’d hunt down anyone who insulted the prophet. They campaign against Muslim arbitration tribunals, whose judgments can be applied in civil courts, nobody knowing if women suffered religious intimidation to sign away rights.

I like that “neatly fits alongside” – it avoids the drawbacks of just coming right out and saying that dislike of Islam is hatred of Muslims. It’s deniable and subtle and imprecise; just the ticket for a smear that won’t get your hands dirty.

Julian Baggini, writing in the Guardian yesterday took a swipe at secularism, wondering why bother with trivia like prayers at council meetings. He omits the heart of the matter, such as the right to die. Or the third of state schools run by religions, mainly CofE, oversubscribed as their results are burnished by admissions policies that consign an unfair share of poor or chaotic families to neighbouring schools.

And as for the trivial matter of prayers at council meetings, well, the “Communities secretary” is fixing that.

The government is activating a power it says will allow councils in England to hold prayers at meetings.

Communities secretary Eric Pickles says he is “effectively reversing” the High Court’s “illiberal ruling” that a Devon council’s prayers were unlawful.

Illiberal? The separation of church and state is illiberal? So it’s liberal to impose Christian prayers on everyone, including people of other religions and people of no religion (not to mention Christians who don’t want to do their praying in the workplace)?

Militant secularists just can’t catch a break.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



So long

Feb 18th, 2012 9:23 am | By

Seen on the UCL ASH page at Facebook:

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Last night in Cranston

Feb 17th, 2012 5:51 pm | By

My brother was at the Cranston school board meeting last night. He told me he thought the day was really won by a great Irish guy named Dan McCarthy

who  got up early in the comment session and said “I went to Catholic schools, where  I said the rosary every day.  I also said it at home, with my father. In fact, I said it today with a dying friend. So I’m a practicing  Catholic.

“On the other hand, my great grandfather came here because he was not allowed to own the land he farmed, in Ireland.  Because he was a Catholic.  In a prod country.

“Don’t appeal.”

He sat down, and the atmosphere in the room changed. The  appeal nuts were no longer whooping and hollering and, when they did resume, a  lot of the spirit had gone out of them.

He had also contacted the Rhode Island chapter of Progessive Democrats of America in support of their statement (I suspect my brother wrote it, though I haven’t confirmed that):

Rhode IslanChapter of
Progressive Democrats oAmerica

The Rhode Island Chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America passed a resolution at its regularly scheduled meeting at the Rochambeau Library on 6 February 2012 against the display of a prayer on the wall of the auditorium of Cranston West High School.

RIPDA took this action in defense of the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads in its entirety: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is worth noting that Congress chose in 1791 to open the enumeration of fundamental rights to be enjoyed by all [free] citizens of the new nation with the right to be free of any state-sponsored religion. Most of them were pious church-goers; their brief was in no sense against the exercise of religion. They prohibited rather any intervention whatso­ever, for or against, by their new state in the religious realm. They could not have made their prohibition more absolute; RIPDA is arguing for respecting their manifest intent.

These men had just come through the violence of their own war for independence, but they knew the power of religious conviction to spawn conflicts of an intensity we have yet to outgrow. Europe had been convulsed by religious conflict for centuries: the inten­sity of the conflict can be gauged by their renewal in Sarajevo and Bosnia twenty years ago, but the new Americans remembered equally bloody wars within their parents’ life­times. They were determined not to allow them to begin again. So are we.

My brother is a Montaigne scholar. Montaigne knew a very great deal about Europe’s convulsions under religious conflict.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



NPR throws mud at Dawkins

Feb 17th, 2012 11:50 am | By

Oh noes, says Barbara J King at NPR, that mean Dawkins guy is the keynote speaker at the Reason Rally. That will wreck the whole thing, right?

No, but Barbara J King does her best to make it so by predicting it, as pseudo-concerned atheist-bashers so often do.

In a 2006 interview with Steve Paulson at Salon (during his tenure as professor of public understanding of science), Dawkins suggested that greater intelligence is correlated with atheism. He also said that when it encourages belief in the absence of evidence, “there’s something very evil about faith.”

Yes; and?

Here is what he said in the full version – note first of all that it’s the interviewer who introduces the word “evil”:

My sense is that you don’t just think religion is dishonest. There’s something evil about it as well.

Well, yes. I think there’s something very evil about faith, where faith means believing in something in the absence of evidence, and actually taking pride in believing in something in the absence of evidence. And the reason that’s dangerous is that it justifies essentially anything. If you’re taught in your holy book or by your priest that blasphemers should die or apostates should die — anybody who once believed in the religion and no longer does needs to be killed — that clearly is evil. And people don’t have to justify it because it’s their faith. They don’t have to say, “Well, here’s a very good reason for this.” All they need to say is, “That’s what my faith says.” And we’re all expected to back off and respect that. Whether or not we’re actually faithful ourselves, we’ve been brought up to respect faith and to regard it as something that should not be challenged. And that can have extremely evil consequences.

And? Is that such an obviously wrong, or evil, thing to think? We see examples of the consequences here every day.

But King thinks it is obviously wrong.

Slam. That noise you hear is the sound of thousands of minds closing down and turning away from anything that Dawkins might go on to say about science.

By choosing words hurtful and harsh, Dawkins closes off a potential channel of communication about science with people who hold faith dear in their lives.

Maybe, some, but maybe some others – assuming they read the interview itself and not just King’s six word gotcha – will see his point. King, however, does her best to prevent that.

Will Dawkins rally The Reason Rally’s secular pilgrims with the same scorn towards the faithful that he’s shown to date? We’ll have to wait and see. If he does, he’ll drive a stake in the heart of the Rally’s stated goal. He will confirm that some of the negative stereotypes associated with the nonreligious — intolerance of the faithful, first and foremost — are at times aligned with reality.

In the meantime, the rest of us, scientists, science writers, and followers-of-science alike, can opt to rally around a different principle.  Whatever our position on the continuum from deep faith to ardent atheism, we can lose the sneers. We can explain and, when necessary, defend science with rigor and passion and genuine civility.

But it wasn’t a sneer. It was a very serious point, and it’s not obviously wrong. Arguably it’s the people who insist on protecting the feelings of people who “hold faith dear in their lives” who do the most harm.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)



Next up for Cranston

Feb 17th, 2012 9:59 am | By

Steve Ahlquist – Jessica’s uncle – has a plan for what to do next, to benefit Cranston public schools, which he posted at the Facebook group Support the Removal of the Cranston High School West Prayer.

Awhile back, the Cranston school committee cut funding for music at their schools, because of budgetary concerns. In response, a group of concerned parents formed a group called BASICS, which I’ll find a link to soon, with the aim of restoring the programs. Raising money for the City of Cranston or the school committee would not allow them to “learn their lesson” but funding BASICS will put money directly into cut programs. The school committee will still have to pay, but the kids could still have their programs, no thanks to the recalcitrant members of the Cranston political elite.

He mentioned that he wants to get the big atheist bloggers like Hemant, PZ, and Rebecca to support it - so I figure he wants to get average-size atheist bloggers to support it too.

Pass it on.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)