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Showing posts from January, 2010

The Singing Ringing Tree

The Singing Ringing Tree, made in an East German studio in 1957, has had a weird effect on my psyche for the rest of my life. I still feel it's important all children have the crap scared out of them regularly in a surreal and incomprehensible way, and the East (PS er. more Eastern?) Europeans do it best. Also they had no silly moral qualms about stapling doves to a swing. The Fast Show spoofed it (this might not mean much if you don't remember the original, though the above clip will help). Go here.

Why David Cameron wants a boom in faith schools

The biggest expansion of faith schools since the 19th century would be encouraged by a Tory government, David Cameron signalled yesterday. Senior figures in the Roman Catholic Church have already expressed a strong interest in running the 'free schools' proposed by the Conservatives. Read more:

Why I despise the hypocritical non-believers who colonise faith schools

Nice Daily Mail rant ... The church was packed, the guests all in their finery. The baby, adorable in an antique christening robe, lay asleep in his mother's arms. The vicar sprinkled water over his forehead. The godparents renounced the Devil. The congregation said the Lord's Prayer. A christening should be an occasion filled emotion. So why was my reaction to attending this - and many others like it, in recent years - not one of joy but of profound distaste? The answer lies in what the baby's mother, in designer outfit, told me over her third glass of champagne. 'Of course, this is the most ludicrous pantomime. I'm the most vocal atheist imaginable. But who cares? Our son's place at the church school is guaranteed. This Christening will save us hundreds of thousands of pounds.' Read more: -Why-I-despise-hypocritical-non-believers-colonise-faith-schools.html#ixzz0e18uMZq3

Fox News most trusted television news network on US.

This is very depressing.... Fox is the most trusted television news network in the country, according to a new poll out Tuesday. A Public Policy Polling nationwide survey of 1,151 registered voters Jan. 18-19 found that 49 percent of Americans trusted Fox News, 10 percentage points more than any other network. Read more .

Draft for comments

For OUP humanism book. This is VERY VERY rought first draft. Many slips I know. CHAPTER XX: HUMANISM AND MORAL AND RELIGIOUS EDUCATION A colleague of mine once told me that, as a pupil of a Catholic school in 1960’s Britain, she once asked in class why the use of contraceptives was morally wrong. She didn’t expressing disagreement with the view – merely asked what the justification for it was. As a result, she was sent to the headmaster, who asked her why she was obsessed with sex. The culture her school fostered, so far as moral and religious education was concerned, was one of deference to authority – of passive, uncritical acceptance of religious dogma. This colleague, no longer Catholic, added that, even today, more than half a century later, she still finds herself feeling guilty if she dares to question a Catholic belief. Her upbringing was highly effective not only in censoring her, but in getting her into the habit of censoring herself. That disposition was so-deeply ingra

New book claims Pope whipped himself as penance

VATICAN CITY—Pope John Paul II whipped himself with a belt, even on vacation, and slept on the floor as acts of penitence and to bring him closer to Christian perfection, according to a new book by the Polish prelate spearheading his sainthood case. read more . Of course everyone will now be thinking about Dan Brown's albino monk... Thanks to Erroll Treslan.

Sign new petition please

There is a new joint petition calling for action at , separate to the Keep Libel Laws out of Science petition, and where you can also send a letter urging your MP to support libel law reform.

Snowy scene in Northumberland

From my flickr page.

9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People

Tonight on BBC 4, 9.45pm. Link . A non-religious Christmas celebration of comedy, science and music recorded live at London's Hammersmith Apollo in December 2009. Stand-up comedian and humanist Robin Ince is joined by a host of leading lights from the world of science, including Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Simon Singh and Ben Goldacre, as well as musicians and top comedians from Mark Steel to Shappi Khorsandi. Full line up: Robin Ince, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Mark Steel, Richard Herring, Shappi Khorsandi, Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Robyn Hitchcock, Jim Bob and Baba Brinkman.

The Meaning of Life - for comments (about 5k words, conclusion to follow)

GOD, RELIGION AND THE MEANING OF LIFE (for my Oxford University Press Very Short Intro to Humanism ) This is a first draft. Comments please. Conclusion is missing. According to some, questions about the meaning of life are inextricably bound up with questions about God and religion. Without God, it is suggested, humanity amounts to little more than a dirty smudge on a ball of rock lost in an incomprehensively vast universe that will eventually bare no trace of us having ever existed, and which will itself collapse into nothingness. So why bother getting out of bed in the morning? If there is a God, on the other hand, then we inhabit a universe made for us, by a God who loves us, and who has given us a divine purpose. That fills our lives meaning. But is God, or religious belief, really a necessary condition of our leading meaningful lives? And how is the existence of God supposed to make our lives meaningful? If meaningful lives are possible whether or not there is a God, what makes

Thought for the Day, 15 January 2010

Some more on Haiti and the problem of evil, this time from The Rev. Dr Giles Fraser: The word "theodicy" describes the intellectual attempt to justify the existence of God in the face of human suffering. Coined by Leibniz at the beginning of the eighteenth century, he argued that out of the various possible worlds that God could have created, he might have created the best of these, a world containing less suffering than all the other options available. With this suggestion, Leibniz sought to explain how it's at least logically possible that a merciful God could create a world with the suffering that it has. And then, in 1755, some years after Leibniz published his famous argument, a massive earthquake hit Lisbon on the morning of the first of November, the popular feast day of All Saints. A 15ft crack opened down the middle of the street. Locals watched the tide disappear only to return as a huge wave that drowned most of the city. 30-40 thousand people were killed. I

Gunsight story

Very odd story about Biblical references stamped on US gunsights. Coded references to biblical passages are inscribed on gunsights widely used by the US and British military in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has emerged. The markings include "2COR4:6" and "JN8:12", relating to verses in the books of Corinthians II and John. Continues here . Thanks to anticant and Eric. Not particularly sinister, just weird....

Tim Minchin's Storm

I found this at Andy Lewis's Quackometer via Simon Singh. Both are speaking at the CFI UK event I have organized for 30th Jan at Conway Hall. See immediately preceding post. Full version of Minchin's poem here .

Pat Robertson voodoo doll on ebay

Here . Thanks to Ekklesia. Finally! What you've all been asking for! A one of a kind, handmade PAT ROBERTSON VOODOO DOLL. After an exclusive deal with devil, we are finally able to bring black magic into your very own home! The lucky winner of this auction will attain the soul of Televangelist PAT ROBERTSON in a handheld figurine comprised of the finest straw, cloth, and other organic natural materials! Ever wanted to cause Pat Robertson a massive headache? give him back pain? jab him in the crotch? Of course you have! Well then BID NOW to own your very own physical representation of the dark, dark soul of Pat Robertson. Accessories included with the doll are Pat's very own "HOLY" BIBLE and BAG OF MONEY taken from real Americans! WOW! BID NOW!!!! 100% of the profits from the sale of this doll will go to The American Red Cross. To learn more about The Red Cross, VISIT HERE....

PLEASE PUBLICIZE: Mass homeopathy overdose on Sat 30th

At 10:23am on January 30th Jan outside Conway Hall 25 Red Lion Square London WC1R 4RL, many sceptics (and more than three hundred homeopathy sceptics nationwide) will be taking part in a mass homeopathic 'overdose' in protest at Boots' continued endorsement and sale of homeopathic remedies, and to raise public awareness about the fact that homeopathic remedies have nothing in them. More information here . Assemble 10.00am. Organized by Skeptics in the Pub. Note that this event is then immediately followed by the CFI UK TRICK OR TREATMENT event (organized by myself) with Simon Singh, John Garrow and Andy Lewis, also at Conway Hall. Details of the event at London sceptics in the pub site here .

Haiti: Problem of evil and Sentamu vs Robertson

Letter on NSS Newsline here . I awoke this morning (Thursday 14 January) to the struggled musings of John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, on the Today programme. He was attempting to reconcile the supposed existence of a loving, omnipotent God with the tragic events in Haiti. The only appropriate response he was able to muster was that he could offer "nothing which makes sense of the horrors". Had he paused at that point, then he would, at least, have been intellectually honest. But, no, he meandered onwards to utter several irrelevant, rambling, and borderline absurd opinions... read on. Programme available for a short time here . I share the frustration of the author of the letter - what on Earth is Archbishop Sentamu on about (process theodicy?)? Pat Roberston has a different view on Haiti: "True story...". At least Robertson's explanation is clear.


CFIUK/SPES PRESENT TRICK OR TREATMENT: ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE ON TRIAL Saturday, 30th January 2010 11am-3pm A day discussing alternative medicine, with speakers: 11am SIMON SINGH, author of Trick or Treatment, currently being sued by British Chiropractic Association. 12am ANDY LEWIS, runs Quackometer on the web. 2pm PROFESSOR JOHN GARROW, founder member of the charity "HealthWatch" which promotes proper testing of the health claims of all therapies, alternative or orthodox. Venue: Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, London WC1R 4RL – Main Hall. Lunch 1-2pm. Sandwiches can be bought at venue. £10 on the door. Free to Friends of CFI UK, PLUS GLHA, SPES, BHA, NEW HUMANIST SUBSCRIBERS. To book go to and hit button "support cfiuk" and follow instructions. Credit and debit cards welcome. Alternatively send a cheque payable to ‘Center for Inquiry London” to: Executive Director Suresh Lalvani, Center for Inquiry London, PO Box 49097 Centre for Inquir

Bad Faith Awards

Every year, New Humanist presents its Bad Faith Award to the individual deemed by readers to have made the most outstanding contribution to the cause of unreason. Last year saw a runaway victory for erstwhile US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, as she romped home with a stunning 33 per cent of the vote. The polls for this year’s award opened in November, and once again they produced a clear winner... read more. Thanks to my Dad.

Oxford under snow

From my flickr site here . Click on image for larger version.

Francis Bacon on root of superstition

(If you spot any errors (in my maths, for example) let me know) Francis Bacon (1561-1626) The general root of superstition is that men observe when things hit, and not when they miss; and commit to memory the one, and forget and pass over the other. Bacon is a pivotal figure in the development of the modern scientific method. Here he puts his finger on a common error, an example of selection bias. Consider these anecdotes: “Joan was thinking about Mary, whom she only thinks about rarely, and whom she had not heard from for a year. Later that same day, Joan’s phone rang, and it was Mary! Joan is clearly psychic!” “It looked as if John would die, but I prayed he would get better, and he did. God answered my prayer!” Such anecdotes can appear to provide compelling evidence of psychic abilities and supernatural events, particularly when many are collected together in a book or article. But do they supply good evidence of such supernatural phenomena? Let’s focus on the first ane

Leo Igwe: contact the embassy, please

Further News from Nigeria The State Security Service has taken Uche with them away from his home supposedly to their offices. Leo has asked the person who lives with Uche to go to the offices and ask what is happening. Leo says that the SSS should be open about what are the reasons for this harassment of Uche and allow him proper legal representation. The situation is unfolding right now. Leo says "we are deeply concerned" He asks all of us to take whatever action we can to make the Nigerian authorites aware that the eyes of the world are on this matter and that we expect that they will be behave properly in providing people with information as to why they are being held and questioned and gioven access t legal representation. Leo says not to be concerned about any effect this may have on him and his meeting on Monday with the police. He sauds it i important that the authorities in Nigeria are aware of the international concern. Contact local Nigerian Embassies , organs of

Press statement from Leo Igwe

Some serious allegations from Leo Igwe: PRESS STATEMENT: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE MY ARREST: A ROUGH ROAD TO JUSTICE FOR A GIRL CHILD, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY MEMBERS IN NIGERIA On Tuesday January 5, at about 7.00am some police officers and soldiers led by two crime merchants in my community, Edward Uwah and Ethelbert Ugwu stormed my family compound in Mbaise in Imo state in Southern Nigeria. They arrested me and my aging father. We were detained briefly at the local police station in Ahiazu before we were transfered to the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia. The officers threatened to beat us when we asked them to allow us to clean up and change our clothes. One of the soldiers brought out his gun and threatened to shoot my father when he wanted to make phone calls to alert other family members of our arrest. The police held us throughout the day without giving us food and water. At the zonal police headquarters in Umuahia, a police officer read a petition by Ethelbert Ugwu who all

After 50 Years, UK Ministry Shuts Down UFO Unit

From Derren Brown . Reuters report here . After more than 50 years of service, the ministry has shut down its UFO investigation unit, saying it could no longer justify the cost of running the service. The ministry said it had found no evidence of a threat to Britain or proof of the existence of extra-terrestrials, despite the public sending thousands of reportings of UFOs to a ministry hotline and email address. It said it held no opinion on the existence or otherwise of alien life, but added it had "no specific capability for identifying the nature of such sightings." Read the rest here . Haiti UFO Video - The best bloopers are a click away

Revised chapter - for comments

I have revised the morality chpt somewhat. Especially the italicized section, which is all new.... I also added quotes from Darwin and Margaret Knight. CHAPTER 4: HUMANISM AND MORALITY Among the “Big Questions” humanism addresses are moral questions, questions about what we ought, or ought not to do. Humanists believe in right and wrong. Indeed, many are passionate in their ethical commitments. However, many religious people question the claim that morality is something those who reject belief in God can even allow for. Three kinds of challenge tend to be raised. They are as follows: First, how can there be good without God? Surely, in talking about things being morally “right” or “wrong, or “good” or “evil”, we are helping ourselves to an objective, God-given yardstick against which such values might be measured. If there is no God, then there is no such yardstick, and so talk about “right” or “wrong” can amount to little more than expressions of personal preference. Morally spea