Thursday, January 31, 2008

Redefintions & Comments of HASSERS - Humanist term

Nick C said in HASSERS forum Jan 22nd:

Humanist-----Projects confusion and the word may put people off. I
have personal experience of this as I knew about Dorset humanists and
never attended, yet as soon a smaller atheist group came along who
weren't solely humanist, I came along.

Richard G said in HASSERS forum Jan 22nd:

Humanist - I too have difficulty understanding what Humanism actually is. From what I have seen, I go along with most of it and I would identify with

it in the following sense. If the morality of religion is "in group
morality" (see "Love Thy Neighbor") as opposed to "general morality",
the latter is a far better thing that should be strived for. The
"group", in general morality, is the whole of humanity (and, to some
extent, animals as well).

Mon 21/07/2008 18:18 Maria MacLachlan said "Human values are those qualities that come under the broad headings of love, peace, justice, truth and responsibility."

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Review of Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion for Free Inquiry Daniel Dennett October 10, 2006

reposted from:

Thanks to Phil Rees (HASSERS Associate) for sending me this review. I have selected some points that particularly interested me on first reading. The whole Dan Dennett review is worth reading.

Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.
We agree about most matters, and have learned a lot from each other, but on one central issue we are not (yet) of one mind: Dawkins is quite sure that the world would be a better place if religion were hastened to extinction and I am still agnostic about that. I don’t know what could be put in religion’s place–or what would arise unbidden–so I am still eager to explore the prospect of reforming religion, a task that cries out for a better understanding of the phenomena, and hence a lot more research than has yet been attempted.

How can a self-declared atheist like me possibly take any form of reformed religion seriously? By recognizing that religions are already evolving rapidly away from their ancestral forms. The religions of tomorrow may be as different from the religions of today as those are from the religions of five hundred years ago. Many avowedly religious people are just as atheistic as Dawkins and I about all the gods that are truly preposterous and dangerous. Still they choose to shape their thinking with a self-sustaining family of metaphors and rituals that seems to them to help them lead good lives. They may not be wrong. Thus belief in God is being displaced by belief in belief in God as the pivotal force of organized religion. This phenomenon of belief in belief still has plenty of problems associated with it, not least of which is the fury with which those for whom it is sacred respond to my exposure of their mental gymnastics. The phenomenon does in any case provide an alternative arena in which to play out some of the issues.

Dawkins’ main objective, which is, as he says in the preface, to raise consciousness in people who are trapped in a religion and can’t even imagine life without it.

I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of this goal before reading the book, and I applaud it. Richard Dawkins, first holder of the Simonyi Professorship in the Public Understanding of Science, is taking his office seriously, and sees that he can use his eminence to perform a social service of great value. Consider the way Oprah Winfrey has used her television program as a consciousness raiser for battered women. How many thousands of women simply couldn’t imagine standing up to their abusive mates or leaving them, let alone calling the police, until Oprah showed them on her daytime program (while horrible hubby was off at work) that this was not just possible but a duty they owed their children! By spearheading this movement, Oprah Winfrey has provided not just direction and resolve, but safety in numbers, and safety in publicity, creating a positive feedback phenomenon that has changed the prevailing attitudes of the nation (with some deplorable pockets of benighted cruelty still surviving, of course–bolstered by the ignoble “traditions” of some religions). Dawkins wants to initiate a similar movement among those who have been afraid to imagine leaving their religions–or just admitting their disbelief. As he well appreciates, this is particularly urgent in the United States, where pronouncements of intimidating piety have reached epidemic proportions. And like Oprah, he is mounting a multi-faceted campaign, with a television series and a website, conspicuously mentioned in his book, which also includes an Appendix providing “a partial list of friendly addresses, for individuals needing support in escaping from religion.”

We need to enlist support and cooperation from like-minded people, and a big part of the problem is that we secularists cannot avail ourselves of some of the most effective methods of the opposition: we cannot permit ourselves to honor irrationality, to celebrate self-blinding devotion that preempts all criticism, or to lie for atheism the way so many eminent and even well-intentioned people lie–knowingly–for their religions.

Our hope lies, I think, in raising the awareness of good people everywhere to the terrible costs of intellectual dishonesty “for the sake of goodness,” and Dawkins’ book is a compendious and vivid exhibit of those costs.

About half of his book covers topics that I also cover in Breaking the Spell: among the most important, the question of how the extravagant behaviors of religion could have evolved in the first place, the question of whether religion is essential for morality (it isn’t), the question of “how ‘moderation’ in faith fosters fanaticism,” and the dangerous role of religious education in early childhood and how to counteract it. On these topics we have no significant disagreements that I can see, but we choose different strategies and emphases. His are sometimes superior to mine. For instance, we both stress the evolution of morality–in spite of, not because of, religious tradition, which has tended to retard progress–but he has gathered a striking collection of examples demonstrating this in very recent history.

we both treat cargo cults as eye-opening examples, but he goes into rather more detail than I did, very effectively. This set me to reflecting on just why it is that these delectable cases of all too human folly are so little known. Why doesn’t everyone know at least in outline the alternately amusing and heart-wrenching story of the people of Tanna, devoutly awaiting the return of John Frum, King of America and dispenser of high-tech bounty? The answer is obvious: it adheres a little too closely for comfort to the stories of the founding of the “great” religions, and would almost surely provoke heretical musings in any child who encountered it.

Both Dawkins and I have to deal with the frustrating problem of the game of intellectual hide-and-seek that “moderate” believers play to avoid being pinned down to the underlying absurdities of their traditions. “Don’t be so literal-minded!” they chortle, marveling at the philistinism of anyone who would attempt to take them at their word and ask them for their grounds for asserting that, for instance, God actually answers prayers (here, now, in the real world, by performing miracles). But then as soon you start playing the metaphor game with them, they abuse the poetic license you have granted them, and delight in dancing around the truth, getting away with all sorts of nonsense because they are indeed playing intellectual tennis without a net. Dawkins’ solution is to adopt a rather less patient attitude than I have done. As a philosopher, I cannot comfortably adopt this policy, since I was trained to hunt for treasure in the confused and confusing gropings of brilliant explorers, and am always encouraging my students to go out of their way to find charitable interpretations.

What do I wish were different in Dawkins’ book? The same thing I wish were different in mine. Sometimes he just cannot conceal his mounting impatience with the arguments he has obliged himself to consider, and when his disrespect, or even contempt, shines through in spite of his strenuous efforts–I know just what he’s going through–he must surely lose many readers. Good riddance to them? Well, no, this is a problem. Serious argument depends on mutual respect, and this is often hard to engender when disagreements turn vehement. The social psychologist and game theorist Anatol Rapoport (creator of the winning Tit-for-Tat strategy in Robert Axelrod’s legendary prisoner’s dilemma tournament) once promulgated a list of rules for how to write a successful critical commentary on an opponent’s work. First, he said, you must attempt to re-express your opponent’s position so clearly, vividly and fairly that your opponent says “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.” Then, you should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement), and third, you should mention anything you have learned from your opponent. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism. I have found this a salutary discipline to follow– or, since it is challenging, to attempt to follow. When it succeeds, the results are gratifying: your opponent is in a mood to be enlightened and eagerly attentive. But this is well nigh impossible when the arguments you wish to rebut are too flimsy. For one thing, you fear that hyper-patience will appear patronizing and simply drive other, swifter readers away. For another, we are dealing here with arguments that in most instances no longer have identifiable living exponents. Who stands by the Ontological Argument today? There are historians of philosophy and theology aplenty who will lovingly teach the argument (and its variants and rebuttals and the rebuttals of the rebuttals) but with few exceptions they don’t defend it. It is treated as a interesting historical example, a Worthy Attempt, a jewel in the treasure-house of religion and philosophy, but not as a consideration that demands a response in today’s arena of argument. That being so, giving the argument the Full Rapoport Treatment would be misplaced effort, comically earnest.

Still, what are we to say to those who, not being experts on the arguments themselves, have often heard them spoken of highly, and may well feel entitled to a more patient account? I think I can imagine mustering the good will, the humor, and the pedagogical doggedness to satisfy them, but I certainly couldn’t find the strength to do it now, and on present showing, Dawkins couldn’t either. In that case, then, perhaps it is all for the best that some readers will probably come away from the book more impressed by Dawkins’ disrespect than persuaded by his arguments. Dawkins might even add that when ideas are contemptible, to conceal one’s contempt is dishonest–and since he is so very good at expressing and defending the scientific ideas for which he has respect, this very contrast may, in the end, be a more potent consciousness-raiser than any argument. Perhaps some claims should just be laughed out of court.

Is Creationism Scientific? A lecture given by Dr Stephen Law for the BHA Darwin Day Lecture 2003

reposted from:

Thanks to Richard Green in the HASSERS forum for refering me to this link.

Richard says "However, Stephen Law doesn't quite get to the point, and a recommend, to fill the gaps, pp 42-44 (not to mention the whole book) of "Abusing Science, The Case Against Creationism" by Philip Kitcher pub 1983.

Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.

The universe, they say, started somewhere between eight and twenty billion years ago with the Big Bang.

In the United States, over the last few decades, creationists have made terrific progress in convincing the pubic that their theory is at least as scientifically respectable as the Big Bang/Evolution alternative. Very many Americans - something approaching one hundred million Americans - now believe that creationism is true.

That's right: about a third of all Americans believe that the entire universe was created just six thousand years ago with the earth looking something like Jurassic Park.

And now I come to the most astonishing fact of all. Not only do huge numbers believe in creationism, they also believe that creationism is just as scientifically respectable as the orthodox Big Bang/evolution theory .

That's right: they believe that creationism is good science.

Indeed, in many American schools, creationism is taught alongside or even instead of the theory of evolution as good science.

Clearly, many creationists are highly intelligent people. Indeed, many are college graduates. Polls indicate that something like one third of college educated Americans believe that the Biblical account of creation is literally true

Indeed, a Tennessee academic who recently surveyed his own students writes that scientists like himself are having to fight the battles of the Enlightenment all over again.

Medieval ideas that were killed stone dead by the rise of science three to four hundred years ago are not merely twitching; they are alive and well in our schools, colleges and universities.

Now the question I want to address here is: How have so many intelligent, college educated people become convinced that creationism is good science?

After all, there appears to be overwhelming evidence that we inhabit a very old universe with life having evolved only comparatively recently (though, of course, still many millions of years ago).

( iv ) The surface of the Earth is made up of rock strata. Given the rate at which strata are laid down, it would take many millions of years for that depth of strata to form. So the Earth must be many millions of years old.
( v) These rock strata contain fossils. And the fossils are ordered in a way that shows evolutionary progression. For example, they show that man evolved from earlier primates. But if creationism is true, then all species were created at the same time just six thousand years ago. In which case we should expect to find creatures fossilized in a fairly random way throughout the strata, rather than in the very precise and specific way required by evolution. Yet even today, after countless millions of fossils have been discovered not one single well documented example of an out of place fossil has been found (for example, not one single fossil of a large mammal has been found down in the dinosaur layers). Isn't that, from the point of creationism, a quite unbelievable coincidence?

So how do creationists deal with this sort of counter-evidence? Why are so many intelligent, college educated people convinced that the scientific evidence supports creationism at least as well as it supports the view that the universe is billions of years old with life having evolved?

One reason that so many are convinced - though not the only reason - is that they believe that the kind of evidence we have been examining is actually entirely consistent with creationism after all.

Take the fossil record, for example. Creationists maintain that the layering in the fossil record can be explained by reference to the Biblical Flood, the flood on which Noah famously floated his ark. The rains that caused the Flood were responsible for producing huge mud deposits that then hardened into the rock strata we find beneath our feet.

But what of the very specific way in which the fossils are arranged, a way which happens coincidentally exactly to fit the theory that life has gradually evolved? How do creationists explain that? In fact, creationists insist that the ordering of life-forms within these layers can also be accounted for on their theory. They suggest the reason we finds dinosaurs below the larger mammals is that dinosaurs are slow, cumbersome and relatively unintelligent creatures that are likely to have been buried as the faster, more intelligent big mammals ran to higher ground. "You see?" says the creationist. "Problem solved! Creationism turns out to be consistent with the available evidence after all! It also fits the evidence. So it's just as scientific as the theory of evolution!"

Why creationism looks "scientific" We have been looking at the kind of moves made by creationist to defend their theory that the entire universe and all species of living thing were created in the same week just six thousand years ago. They defend their core theory by developing and adding to it and developing it in various ways so that it continues to fit the available evidence. Each time another piece of apparently solid counter-evidence to creationism is produced - the fossil record, the craters on the moon, etc. - the creationists add a bit more to their core theory to protect it. So they can continue to insist that their theory still fits the available evidence. "See?" they can say "Our theory is just as scientific as yours."

In short, creationists have been busy developing: A theory of increasing complexity and ingenuity to "fit" the available empirical evidence.

And isn't this exactly how good scientific theories are developed? Well, I admit that what creationists practice does look like a bit like science. In fact, it does, in this respect, very strongly resemble what scientists do. And that, of course, is one of the reasons why so many people - something like a third of all Americans - now believe that creationism is scientifically respectable. Still, despite looking rather like genuine science, the creationist approach to dealing with the evidence is actually thoroughly unscientific. The easiest way to see why is by means of an analogy.

Are dogs Venusian spies? Allow me to tell you about a pet theory of my own. Dogs are spies from the planet Venus.

Now I have made my theory fit the evidence again! I have shown that all your so-called counter-evidence is actually consistent with my theory after all!

You can see how this rather silly game might continue on forever. I can keep on protecting my weird theory about dogs being Venusian spies by constantly adding on new bits to deal with whatever evidence you might come up with. It won't be long before I have you thoroughly tied up in knots.

The interesting thing about my dogs-are-Venusian-spies-theory is that I can continue to make it fit and explain what has been observed . I just need to keep on using my ingenuity to add on bits to deal with what might otherwise seem to be compelling counter-evidence.

But if a good scientific theory is one which fits and explains what has been observed, then surely, my theory that dogs are Venusian spies is just as "good" as the common sense theory that they are merely harmless pets. Isn't it?

Reasoning close to madness Of course not. Pretty clearly, the kind of reasoning that I am using to defend my bizarre theory about dogs is not scientific.

In fact you can see that any theory, no matter how utterly mad, can be protected in this way forever , no matter how much seemingly compelling evidence might be brought against it. If this was a scientifically respectable way of carrying on, then we would have to say that all theories are equally scientifically respectable, including the theories that dogs are Martian spies, that cheese is made of fairy dust, and that Mexicans are the secret rulers of the universe.

It's true that reputable scientists do occasionally defend their theories by making such "ad hoc" moves. However, you shouldn't make a habit of it. Once almost all your theory development is taken up with adding on further untestable bits to your theory in order to prevent it being falsified, that theory is no longer being approached as a scientific theory but as an item of faith. Your method more closely resembles the reasoning off the deranged than it does science.

What creationists practice might look a bit like science to the untrained eye. After all, it's true that they are using their often considerable ingenuity to develop a theory that continues to fit the available evidence. But their method is essentially unscientific. Indeed, it is a form of reasoning that is, quite literally, close to madness

The important thing to notice, here, is that in order to deal more effectively with creationist claims and arguments one needs to take a step back and look at their method .

The bottom line is : if you want to convince those exposed to creationist claims and arguments that what they have been exposed to is bunk, it's not enough just to focus on the scientific evidence.

In order to get them really to understand why creationism is bunk, it's essential that they understand that, while the method employed by creationists might look what scientists engage in, it is actually thoroughly unscientific. In fact it's akin to a form of insanity. In order to get them really to understand why creationism is bunk, it's essential that they understand that, while the method employed by creationists might look what scientists engage in, it is actually thoroughly unscientific. In fact it's akin to a form of insanity.

The real problem with allowing schools to teach children that the universe is only six thousand years old is "good science" is not that we are letting those in positions of power and authority over young minds teach them ludicrous falsehoods, though that is bad enough.

The problem is that the only way children can be taught that creationism is true and supported by the available evidence is by instilling in them such twisted conceptions of logic and evidential support that they are likely to remain gullible idiots for the rest of their lives. Teaching that creationism is respectable science means teaching children to think in ways that are, quite literally, close to lunacy. This is not an issue about religious tolerance and freedom. Let schools teach creationism in religious education, if you like. But don't let schools teach children that creationism is good science .

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Philosophy Gym - Course Content

The Philosophy Gym is an online beginners philosophy course lasting 10 weeks from 28th January 2008. The next course is Wed 23 Apr to Fri 4 Jul 2008


Have you ever wondered where the universe came from? Whether time travel is possible? Whether its morally acceptable to genetically design babies? If God exists? If so then you have already started to do philosophy.


This course is based around some intriguing and exciting philosophical puzzles that have vexed philosophers through the ages. Designed to get you thinking for yourself by throwing you (and your course-mates) straight into the difficulties so you can puzzle out the answers for yourself (with the guidance of your tutor), the course will soon have you developing basic philosophical skills.


Dr Stephen Law

Role: Course Author

This course was written by Stephen Law (BSc, BPhil, DPhil). Stephen is a Lecturer at Heythrop College, University of London and also teaches summer schools for the University of Oxford's Department for Continuing Education. He is Editor of the Royal Institute of Philosophy's journal THINK and author of a number of introductory philosophy books including The Philosophy Gym: 25 Short Adventures in Thinking (Hodder-Headline, 2003), which is the textbook for this course.

Programme details

The course is divided into seven Units, with a different topic being covered in each one. Some of the Units will be studied over one week, but some will be studied over two weeks. The Units are:

  • Introduction to learning online (introductory)

  • What is philosophy? (1 week)

  • The existence of God (2 weeks)

  • Consciousness and the mind-body problem (2 weeks)

  • Scientific knowledge (1 week)

  • Is morality relative? (2 weeks)

  • Personal identity (1 week)

Course aims

To introduce philosophical thinking by marrying modern technology (computers, online discussion) with ancient philosophical puzzles.

Course Objectives:
1. To enable students to grasp a number of basic philosophical skills.
2. To enable students to grasp a number of classic philosophical puzzles.
3. To impart a critical understanding of some of the best-known attempted solutions to these puzzles.


This course is accredited and you are expected to take the course for credit. To be awarded credit, you must participate and complete written contributions satisfactorily. Successful students will receive credit, awarded by the Board of Studies of Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. The award will take the form of 10 units of transferable credit at undergraduate level 1 of the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS). A transcript detailing the credit will be issued to successful students.

Assessment methods

In this course assessment is through a written report, essay or summary, of approx 1000 words.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following books:

Stephen Law, The Philosophy Gym (London, Hodder-Headline, 2003)
Louis P Pojman, Introduction to Philosophy – classical and contemporary readings (New York, Oxford University Press, 2004)

Viruses of the Mind by Richard Dawkins

reposted from:,98,Viruses-of-the-Mind,Richard-Dawkins
thanks for Richard G in HASSERS forum for his link.

A beautiful child close to me, six and the apple of her father's eye, believes that Thomas the Tank Engine really exists. She believes in Father Christmas, and when she grows up her ambition is to be a tooth fairy. She and her school-friends believe the solemn word of respected adults that tooth fairies and Father Christmas really exist. This little girl is of an age to believe whatever you tell her. If you tell her about witches changing princes into frogs she will believe you. If you tell her that bad children roast forever in hell she will have nightmares. I have just discovered that without her father's consent this sweet, trusting, gullible six-year-old is being sent, for weekly instruction, to a Roman Catholic nun. What chance has she?


Three kinds of Faith and The Scientific Method

reposted from: Thanks to Richard G in HASSERS forum for this link and comments on Faith 1
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.

Faith -- Quoting James Randi, from his book The Faith Healers page 6-8, "Paul Kurtz, in his book The Transcendental Temptation, defines
three distinctly different kinds of faith, derived from the amount (or total lack) of evidence drawn upon to support it.
Kurtz defines the first kind as 'intransigent faith.' By this is meant faith that will not be affected by any sort of contrary evidence, no matter how strong. My own experience with some few persons who persist in believing in certain paranormal claims that have been conclusively proven false enables me to label their faith as

Type I Faith . . . Gerry Straub, who spent two and a half years as evangelist/healer Pat Robertson's television producer and wrote Salvation for Sale, to describe his experiences there, gave his opinion: "I am convinced that if Pat Robertson or any other of television's faith-healers were proven to be pranksters and frauds, the vast majority of their staff and viewers would not drop their belief in the ministers' healing power or weaken their faith in God.Those people would be exhibiting Type I faith . . .

Type II faith was called by philosopher William James 'the will to believe.' As defined by Professor Kurtz it is "willful belief where there is insufficient or no evidence either way to make a rational choice." It really involves making a decision to believe, even though the reasons for doing so are not compelling. However, there may be reasons for believing that have nothing to do with the logic of the matter; it may be more comforting, more socially advantageous, or simply easier to choose to believe.

One who goes along with a political party only because that party has always been the family party exhibits Type II faith . . . Last,

Type III faith is described as 'hypotheses based upon evidence.'
Here, there is evidence, but not enough evidence or evidence of good enough quality to support total belief.
As I step off a curb to cross with a traffic light that has just turned green, I may safely assume that the light will stay green long enough for me to reach the other side. That assumption is based upon my long experience with traffic lights and the knowledge of the general intent of those who designed, manufactured, installed, and maintain the device. I have exhibited Type III faith.

Science creates a hypothesis based upon observations, then sets out to examine the validity of that hypothesis. After enough observations have been gathered and the idea has been tested thoroughly with positive results, the hypothesis becomes a theory. The beauty of that theory is that it is subject to revision and/or retraction upon the presentation of contrary evidence.
Thus scientists can be said to exhibit Type III faith".

We will not spy on our students - Bournemouth University

reposted from: - see pg 5.
Chris Street comments are in bright green;
highlights in yellow blockquotes.

UNIVERSITY lecturers and staff across Britain could be sent a secret 18-page document within weeks asking them to spy on “Asian-looking” and Muslim students in general. But Bournemouth University have blasted the plans as ‘ridiculous’ and insist they will not infringe basic human rights of students.

David Hart, the Head of Chaplaincy at Talbot campus said: “Bournemouth University will do what it has always done; continue promoting freedom of speech and equality.” The government document is currently being drafted by the Department of Education. Its aim is to submit a series of proposals to universities and other centres of higher education as the government believe that campuses have become “fertile recruiting grounds”, for extremists, national newspapers have reported. The government fear the political strength of Islamic student groups which have become increasingly politicised in the wake of the War On Terror and the possibility that Islamic moderates will be ‘sucked’ into extremism.

Gemma Tumelty, President of the National Union of Student’s has slammed the proposals as a step backwards. She said: “They are going to treat everyone Muslim with suspicion on the basis of their faith. It’s bearing on the side of McCarthyism.” Abdul Kapadia, a Muslim student at Bournemouth University and member of its Muslim Society has strong feelings towards the proposed document. He said: “I feel very badly about this draft . In every religion there are good people and bad people. “There are the average Muslims and then there are the tiny percentages of extremists. You cannot suspect everyone.”

Head of Chaplaincy, Hart, went on to add that Bournemouth University
always looks out for extremism - regardless of religion – in order to protect its students.
He said:
“We look out for any type of extremist religion that could be seen as unhealthy whether Christian or otherwise so that everyone can feel safe and comfortable.
Bournemouth University’s Diversity and Equality Advisor, Emma Stephens believes that government have overstepped the mark in their bid to combat terrorism. She said: “The government have a responsibility to be seen to be doing something about terrorism; this time however its efforts have been channelled in a ridiculous direction.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

Colin McGinn talks to Point of Inquiry, DJ Grothe,

reposted from:

British Philosopher Colin McGinn talked to Point of Inquiry with DJ Grothe. My brief notes don't do justice to this hour long talk.

  • Point of Inquiry - January 2008 - talk with Colin McGinn (1 hour)
    • philosophical scepticism
      • I'm not an extreme sceptic
      • there is no certain knowledge but there is reliable knowledge
      • certain that god and ghosts does not exist - no evidence produced over 100 years
      • secular philosophy - non religious - vast majority of philosphers teaching in USA and UK are agnostics or atheists
      • a very small minority of philosophers are religious - not a growing group
      • tolerance - tolerant of people - but not tolerant of their beliefs
        • should not persecuate them - that is bad, criticism is good what you do to ideas
      • most academic philosophers do not talk about religion - its a dead subject - ethically and politically it is a hot topic. What will America be like when it is post-theist?
      • Stunned by resurgence of religous belief.
      • When education is increased and indoctrination is reduced - America will reduce religious belief
      • If children were not indoctrinated - people would not come much to religion
      • evolution is a major reason to remove existence of god
      • no reason to believe in god, unicorns, fairies, ufo etc
      • physcological reasons for belief in god - no evidence for god
      • Philosophy of Shakespeare
        • evil people
      • death is a real thing - nothing beyond life
      • connect philosophy to sport, film - philosophy should not be 'dry' - infuse it with real life

    The Atheism Tapes with Jonathan Miller - talks to Colin McGinn

    Jonathan Miller talks to the philosopher Prof. Colin McGinn about atheism and anti-Theism. This interview was done for the BBC series Atheism: A rough history of disbelief. Watch the 27 minute interview. Main points in highly abbreviated format (to wet your appetite!). Don't read my rough notes - just listen to Colin McGinn talking to Jonathan Miller!!
    • Do you believe in 'anything'?
      • ethics, politics etc
      • something there? Nothing! No supernatural, no ghosts, no telepathy, no superstitutions
    • where do you get Spirituality from?
      • deeply held beliefs, feelings about nature, deep convictions
      • no god, bad idea to believe in god and its been very harmful for man to believe in god
    • Believing in God then becoming an atheist
      • bible got me into philosophy
      • metaphysical and divine (what does it all mean) and ethics of New Testament got me interested in philosophy
      • studied pychology at Uni - religion just disappeared - its a load of rubbish
      • read Bertrand Rusell; keep ethical side and jetison the rest (miracles, origin of universe, virgin birth)
      • i would like religion to be true: cosmic justice would be good - but its not there
      • bracing and hygienic with no god
    • Why i dont believe in God as a philosopher
      • no evidence - no reason to believe in god than in Zeus
        • miracles - no good evidence
      • reasons to believe in God
        • Anselm - definition of God - ontological arguement
          • most perfect, powerful conceivable being
          • if did not exist then a more perfect being
          • existence is one of the perfections of god
          • what is perfect being? perfect colours?
          • Unicorn - horse with one horn
        • without god life is meaningless
          • empty sharade
          • without a being outside life
          • values and meanings is evidence - that something ie god has given us these - why should values depend on existence of god
          • morality foundation - Plato Euthrethro
          • why wrong to steal? Socrates intrinsically sound. Murder is right?
          • god cannot make something right when it is not right
          • guilt is a bad feeling - god gives extra motive to do right - i dont believe that
          • god will reward you is a corrupting idea - not what morality is about
        • reasons to not believe in god
          • problem of suffering and pain in world, why does he not interfere in death of a child - all good and powerful - conflict between that and evil, problem is free will arguement - natural catastrophies occur - god created a world in which inevitable that humans would
          • god testing people - improve moral character - god should not allow this to happen
        • why do people have a need to believe?
          • death - cosmic loneliness - human consciousness is sealed off
          • atheist is an accusation not a conviction
          • label atheist - is negative - no point in spending time
          • antitheism - opposition to theism - actively opposed to it - not just an atheist cf post theism and post atheism
          • ideal society would be that religion was just historical - post theist society

    Being surrounded by bullshit is one thing. Having your mind fucked is quite another. The former is irritating, but the latter is violating and intrusive (unless you give your consent). If someone manipulates your thoughts and emotions, messing with your head, you naturally feel resentment: he or she has distorted your perceptions, disturbed your feelings, maybe even usurped your self. Mindfucking is a prevalent aspect of contemporary culture and the agent can range from an individual to a whole state, from personal mind games to wholesale propaganda.In "Mindfucking", Colin McGinn investigates and clarifies this phenomenon, taking in the ancient Greeks, Shakespeare and modern techniques of thought control. McGinn assembles the conceptual components of this most complex of concepts - trust, deception, emotion, manipulation, false belief, vulnerability - and explores its very nature. Is philosophy, as a discipline, a type of mindfuck, asks McGinn? Is romantic love a species of mindfuck? The essence is psychological upheaval or disorientation, often abetted by the weaknesses of the victim. Jealousy, insecurity and prejudice can aid the mindfuck.

    Delusion is the general result, sometimes insanity. How mindfucked are you? It's hard to say from the inside, but being aware of the phenomenon offers at least some protection.

    More About Colin McGinn

    • Colin McGinn Blog
    • Wikipedia - Colin McGinn
    • Colin McGinn - New Mysterianism
      • New Mysterianism is a philosophy proposing that certain problems will never be explained or at the least cannot be explained by the human mind at its current evolutionary stage. The problem most often referred to is the hard problem of consciousness; i.e. how to explain sentience and qualia and their interaction with consciousness.

        New Mysterianism is often characterized as a presupposition that some problems cannot be solved. Critics of this view argue that it is arrogant to assume that a problem cannot be solved just because we have not solved it yet. On the other hand, New Mysterians would say that it is just as absurd to assume that every problem can be solved. Crucially, New Mysterians would argue that they did not start with any supposition as to the solvability of the question, and instead reached their conclusion through logical reasoning.

    • Point of Inquiry - January 2008 - talk with Colin McGinn (about 1 hour)
      • philosophical scepticism
        • I'm not an extreme sceptic
        • no certain knowledge but reliable knowledge
        • certain that god and ghosts does not exist - no evidence produced over 100 years
        • secular philosophy - non religious - vast majority of philosphers teaching in USA and UK are agnostics or atheists
        • a very small minority of philosophers are religious - not growing group
        • tolerance - tolerant of people - but not tolerant of their beliefs
          • should not persecuate them - is bad, criticism is good what you do to ideas
        • most academic philosophers do not talk about religion - more political issue - a dead subject - ethically and politically a hot topic. America will be post-theist? Stunned by resurgence of religous belief. When education is increased and indoctrination is reduced - if children were not indoctrinated - people would not come much to religion
        • evolution is a major reason to remove existence of god
        • no reason to believe in god, unicorns, fairies, ufo
        • physcological reasons for belief in god - no evidence for god
        • Philosophy of Shakespeare
          • evil people
          • death is a real thing - nothing beyond life
          • connect philosophy to sport, film - philosophy should not be 'dry' - infuse it with real life

    Sunday, January 27, 2008

    Team claims synthetic life feat (July 2007)

    reposted from:
    Chris Street comments are in bright green;
    highlights in yellow blockquotes.

    Team claims synthetic life feat
    By Neil Bowdler
    BBC science reporter

    Craig Venter (file image)
    Dr Venter says the research brings him closer to creating synthetic life
    Scientists in the US say they have taken a major step towards producing life from scratch in the laboratory.

    Dr Craig Venter says in the journal Science that his team successfully transplanted an entire genome from one bacterium cell to another.

    He says he hopes eventually to use the technique to create designer microbes, which could produce artificial fuel or help clean up toxic waste.

    Dr Venter was a pioneer in mapping the human genome.

    Organic tools

    The ultimate plan is to stitch together artificial chromosomes, proteins and other building blocks with the aim of jumpstarting their designer microbe to life. But Dr Venter concedes that this may be a long way away, but he says he has taken an important key step towards that goal.

    His team, essentially, snatched the body of another life-form and invaded it with a new genetic code.

    This, he says, will be a key tool in testing the artificial chromosomes - or DNA bundles - he plans to make.

    "What's in this paper is the result of taking a native chromosome from one species," Dr Venter explained.

    "That chromosome was transplanted, inserted through the cell walls, the cell membrane of a second species and, after several days of growth and cell division, the original chromosome in the cell disappears and we have cells containing only the transplanted chromosome."

    Different views

    But there are those who are worried about what Dr Venter is doing.

    Some fear the technology could be used to create biological weapons or simply that something unforeseen may emerge from the laboratory.

    Others are concerned that his institute's efforts to patent research could restrict scientific advances elsewhere.

    But Dr Venter says he is doing nothing that other institutes do not already do.

    "Over the last several years we have had to develop novel techniques and approaches that have not existed before because this field has not existed before," he said.

    "The Venter Institute and the Synthetic Genomics Company are doing what most major institutions do - that is we file patents on these unique techniques."

    Creating life in the laboratory

    reposted from:
    Chris Street comments are in bright green;
    highlights in yellow blockquotes.

    Creating life in the laboratory
    By Rebecca Morelle
    Science reporter, BBC News

    Mycoplasma bacteria
    Genes of micro-organisms are being modified to create something new

    The race to create life version 2.0 is under way.

    And rumours abound that closest to the finish line in constructing a lifeform in the laboratory is US genome-entrepreneur Craig Venter's research team.

    The J Craig Venter Institute scientists are aiming to craft a "minimal genome"- the smallest group of genes an organism needs to survive and function - and insert it into an empty cell.

    This stripped-down genome has been established with the help of a simple bacterium, Mycoplasma genitalium, by knocking out its genes, one by one, until only the genetic material vital for survival was found.

    Craig Venter
    Dr Venter could be on the cusp of creating life
    The plan is to re-synthesise these DNA sequences from simple chemicals, stitch them together and create an artificial organism. Some believe the team may be on the cusp of doing just that.

    Dr Venter's work on synthetic life is described by some as "top-down", meaning that he is taking an existing organism and changing it to create something new.

    Drew Endy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, says:

    "Venter is not creating life from scratch.

    "He is constructing a genome, which is more or less a slightly modified copy of an existing genome, then putting it back into an existing cell."

    Dr Endy, who is working on standard building blocks, called BioBrick parts, which can be assembled to build larger biological systems, says he sees Dr Venter's work as a "genome construction project", albeit "an incredibly significant" one.

    BioBrick parts are building blocks for synthetic biological systems
    But building life from scratch, from the "bottom-up", is a challenge that some synthetic biologists have decided to take on.

    If you can build the biological parts, they argue, then creating something that meets the criteria for life - has a metabolism, replicates and evolves - is surely the next step.

    Cell 'blueprint'

    Anthony Forster from Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Tennessee, US, says: "There has been a fair amount of talk about how you might synthesise self replication and life in a test tube, but nobody really had a detailed plan for it."

    We have abandoned so much of what traditional biology is doing, many biologists view us as heretics
    Steen Rasmussen
    Dr Forster, along with George Church from Harvard Medical School, US, has created a "blueprint" for a synthetic cell, defining the 151 genes that they believe are needed to create life.

    The team is now in the process of using the blueprint to begin to piece together its prototype cell.

    But what are the reasons for creating synthetic life?

    Dr Venter hopes to modify genes in his new organism so that it can mop up greenhouse gases. Other tasks such organisms might be able to do include cleaning up oil spills or producing plastics.

    Giovanni Murtas, from the Enrico Fermi Centre, University of Rome Three, Italy, plans to build a new lifeform to look at the more fundamental question of the origins of life.

    Oil spill
    Synthetic organisms might be able to help clear up oil spills
    "We are creating these semi-synthetic minimal cells that recall the early living cells," he says.

    So far, his team has successfully built a cell system that can synthesise proteins, which is important for demonstrating that a basic metabolism can be created. Replication is the next step, he explains.

    "If you want to understand more about how life was set up, then you want to recreate the principal steps for life; and you can obviously learn something new about life from using this approach," Dr Murtas tells BBC News.

    Ron Weiss from Princeton University, US, who is focussing on programming biological organisms, believes the technology could also have biomedical applications.

    "One thing people are trying to do is to use cells as factories to make drugs or fabricate structures," he says.

    New take on life

    The top-down and bottom-up teams have something in common: they are mimicking what nature does already. Some scientists, though, have gone back to the drawing broad in their quest to produce synthetic life.

    Steen Rasmussen from Los Alamos National Laboratory, US, is one of them.

    The biggest challenge is not necessarily creating life, but knowing that you have created life
    George Attard
    "We are the radical kids on the block. We have abandoned so much of what traditional biology is doing. Many biologists view us as heretics," he says.

    Rather than turning to biological cell design as his starting point, Dr Rasmussen is looking to see if there might be simpler structures that he can use as the basis of his synthetic organism.

    He is creating a cell in which the essential parts, such as genes and metabolic chemicals, are stuck to the surface of it rather than held inside like a traditional cell.

    He says: "This means you can exchange resources and waste directly with the environment and that simplifies things enormously."

     tissue culture cells
    Some are moving away from traditional cell structures
    Synthetic biologists think that although life created by a top-down approach may be imminent, synthetic life built from the bottom up is a few more years away - at least five to 10.

    However, George Attard from Southampton University, UK, adds a word or two of caution.

    "The biggest challenge is not necessarily creating life, but knowing that you have created life - doing the experiment that unambiguously tells you that you've got it," he says.

    "That's because you are going to be looking at a 'soup' that contains several hundred, possibly several thousand, chemical species. How on Earth can you tell that what you have isn't just a chemical waste bottle but something that is exhibiting the signs of life?"

    Synthetic life 'advance' reported

    reposted from:

    Chris Street comments are in bright green;
    highlights in yellow blockquotes.

    Synthetic life 'advance' reported
    By Helen Briggs
    Science reporter, BBC News

    Mycoplasma bacteria (Image: Science Photo Library)
    M. genitalium has one of the smallest known genomes
    An important step has been taken in the quest to create a synthetic lifeform.

    A US team reports in Science magazine how it built the entire DNA code of a common bacterium in the laboratory using blocks of genetic material.

    The group hopes eventually to use engineered genomes to make organisms that can produce clean fuels and take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

    Publication of the research gives others the chance to scrutinise it. Some have ethical concerns.

    It sets the stage for what we hope is going to be a new approach to engineering organisms
    Dr Hamilton Smith, Nobel Prize winner

    These critics have been calling for several years now for a debate on the risks of creating "artificial life" in a test tube.

    But Dr Hamilton Smith, who was part of the Science study, said the team regarded its lab-made genome - a laboratory copy of the DNA used by the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium - as a step towards synthetic, rather than artificial, life.

    He told BBC News: "We like to distinguish synthetic life from artificial life.

    "With synthetic life, we're re-designing the cell chromosomes; we're not creating a whole new artificial life system."

    Gene cassettes

    The team of 17 scientists constructed the bacterial genome by chemically synthesising small blocks of DNA.

    These were grown up in a bacterium, and knitted together into bigger pieces, so-called "cassettes" of genes.

    The researchers ended up with several large chunks of DNA that were joined to make the circular genome of a synthetic version of Mycoplasma genitalium.

    They have named it Mycoplasma JCVI-1.0, after their research centre, the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, MD, US.

    Dr Craig Venter, who was involved in the race to decode the human genome, believes tailor-made micro-organisms can become efficient producers of non-polluting fuels such as hydrogen. Other synthetic bacteria could be made to take up greenhouse gases, he believes.

    "It sets the stage for what we hope is going to be a new approach to engineering organisms," said co-researcher Dr Smith.

    Operating systems

    To achieve this goal, the researchers must overcome a crucial, and tricky, obstacle.

    They must transplant the synthetic genome into another cell so that it can use the existing machinery to "boot up" and start growing and reproducing.

    2002: synthetic virus created - a lab version of polio
    2007: a genome from one cell is placed in another
    2008: publication of synthetic genome study
    "It's installing the software - basically we have to boot up the genome, get it operating," said Dr Smith, who shared a Nobel Prize in 1978 for furthering knowledge on how to cut up segments of DNA.

    "We're simply re-writing the operating software for cells - we're not designing a genome from the bottom up - you can't drop a genome into a test tube and expect it to come to life," he added.

    This is the stage which raises the most concern among critics, and where a new lifeform could be said to be truly created. How precisely will it behave? What will its impact be on other organisms and the environment? Some say it is a step too far, but others argue that the new field of synthetic biology is an important science.

    Even bigger

    The UK's Royal Society is seeking views from the public on the issue.

    Adviser on synthetic biology, Dr Jason Chin, said the increasing ability to design and construct DNA sequences would, in principle, allow the construction of organisms for particular purposes, such as biofuels production.

    He added: "Understanding how you construct organisms artificially is an important first step. But scientists still need to understand what effect altering the DNA sequence of an organism - such as bacteria - will have upon their behaviour."

    Dr Drew Endy of the Department of Biological Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, said that re-constructing a natural bacterial genome from scratch was a great technical feat.

    Such advances in science is the way ahead for humanity!
    Brian Hunter

    He said genomes 10 times larger than Mycoplasma JCVI-1.0 had already been assembled from existing DNA fragments by a Japanese group.

    Dr Endy added: "Given the work already done in Japan, building genomes almost 10 million base-pairs long - I would be surprised if by 2012 it were not technically possible to routinely design and construct the genomes of any bacteria or single celled eukaryote, which also means that it will be possible to construct some mammalian chromosomes."

    Dr Simon Woods, a bio-ethicist at the Policy, Ethics and Life Sciences Research Centre at the University of Newcastle, UK, said scientists were acting in a regulatory vacuum.

    "On the one hand it's an amazing piece of science but the real concern is that it's another example of science delving into matters that have potentially dangerous consequences," he said.

    "It's not necessarily going to stay in the hands of well-intentioned scientists."



    infographicIn 2007, scientists put genome from one organism into cell of another, taking over cell's machinery.

    Bacterial synthetic genome was built up chemically by sewing together short DNA segments.

    Synthetic genome to be put (1) into cell, reproduce and (2) create plants for biofuels and petrochemical substitutes.

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    Is there anything good about atheism?

    Atheism is so negative. You just trash other people's beliefs and don't have anything to offer instead."

    This sort of criticism is often levelled at atheists. And it is true. Atheism is simply the lack of belief in deities. It does not tell you how to live your life or treat other people.

    reposted from: via Stumbleupon
    Chris Street comments are in bright green;
    highlights in yellow blockquotes.

    Of course, the same is also true of theism. Just having a belief in a god gives you no direction to take in life. Theists try to live their lives according to the religion that they follow. Simple belief is just as lacking as simple disbelief.

    It is where your belief, or lack thereof, leads you that is important. Not just the fact that you believe or disbelieve.

    So, where does atheism lead you? To an emotional dead-end? To bleak hopelessness? To despair and resentment?
    No. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    People who do not accept the teachings of religion need something else to help them deal with life. Humanism, in one form or another, is a common route (it varies from person to person, as there is no strict definition). There are plenty of Humanist websites that can give you a good idea of the basic principles of Humanism (Fredrik Bendz has a good list of Humanist sites, and the Infidels Library has an extensive collection of humanist texts).

    Apart from Humanism, what else does an atheist lifestyle offer? If you are a theist you may well find that many of the following apply to yourself as well. Fair enough - it just shows that atheists aren't so alien after all.

    It encourages an inquisitive mind

    You've lost your religion, you reject the ideas about creation, biology, cosmology or whatever your religion taught. So, naturally you want to find out what is really going on. As you start to learn about the scientific views on certain subjects you cannot help but want to learn more and more. Also, atheists are often challenged to support or explain a particular theory, and so you want to learn about it if only for a quiet life. Personally, the more I learn about evolution and astronomy, the more I want to learn.

    The freedom to think for yourself

    Religions often discourage people from thinking about certain issues, or thinking about them outside the context of that particular religion. As an atheist, you often feel a remarkable sense of freedom when you realise that you can think about previously taboo subjects (such as abortion, assisted suicide, birth control etc.) without referring to scripture or a priest for guidance. You are free to decide for yourself. You may even reach the same conclusions -, but you got there through logic and reason, not just unquestioning acceptance of whatever your church dictated.

    This is called "freethought" and can lead you down avenues of thought that were previously closed to you. You do not have to follow the teachings of your church, religion or tradition - you can research the subject and decide for yourself. No more must you put up with answers like "God moves in a mysterious way", "Man was not meant to understand such things" or "Because it says so in the Bible, therefore it is true".

    No unnecessary guilt

    Atheists do feel guilt about things they consider to be morally wrong. However, they do not feel guilt about many of the things theists might. The Catholic Church, for example, seems to expect you to feel guilty about everything from picking your nose to looking at any part of a member of the opposite sex except for their eyes. You should determine your own morality, not let someone else impose theirs on you.

    It is better to decide for yourself what is Right and Wrong - what can benefit or harm yourself and others - than to simply accept the teachings of an arbitrary authority. When asked why a certain act is considered immoral, many theists will reply "Because that is what my religion teaches, and what I have been raised to believe". In many instances a moral code based on thought and reason will overlap with a purely religious moral code, but there will be many issues on which the two will either strongly agree or disagree for wildly different reasons.

    Intellectual honesty

    "Pah! Intellectual snobbery, more like! You think you're so clever, denying God and being a smart-arse."
    This is tricky to define without sounding arrogant, so bear with me. I do not mean that theists are intellectually dishonest. I mean that atheists admit if they do not know or understand something, and they are quite likely to accept the views of mainstream science (although not unquestioningly). We do our best to recognise if an idea is irrational - if it is, then we can either discard it or investigate further. Faith, on the other hand, often requires the belief of an irrational idea.
    [ It has been pointed out to me that I should say "most atheists" here, as there are plenty of atheists out there who can be stupid and irrational. Present company excepted, of course. =) ]

    If I do not know something about the universe I say so, and refer to the current theories of the experts in that field. I'm not a microbiologist, but I trust the experts in microbiology to know what they're talking about. They might not be exactly right (scientists rarely are), but they have come to their conclusions based on the weight of scientific evidence, not personal belief or religious dogma.

    If I believe something to be true, it is because of the weight of evidence in it's favour, not because of superstition, wishful thinking or the assertions of religious leaders. ( If a church changes it's views on a subject, followers are expected to simply cease believing the old version and start believing the new - X was true yesterday, but now Y is true and X is false. )

    Atheists need to be honest with themselves about why they hold their beliefs. Otherwise they are just god-denying smart-arses.

    A sense of wonder

    Many theists profess to having a deep sense of awe and wonder whenever they see something special in God's Creation. Leaves in autumn, rainbows, flowers, babies, morning dew on a cobweb, sunsets etc. "How clever and loving God is. What a beautiful world He has created for me to experience." they might think to themselves.

    I feel a similar sense of wonder when I see these things. Not because I think about a deity creating them for me to marvel at, but because I understand (to a certain extent) the processes that created them. Plate tectonics, evolution, refraction and reflection of light, cell growth. To some people it's boring old science. To me it's amazing. I feel awe at the natural world and how it all works. I think it belittles it to just say "God did it.". That's not good enough. I want to know how it all works, how cells grow, how stars form, how photons refract and what antimatter is.

    Finding out about one thing makes me want to know more and more. Finding out the real answers is much more satisfying than attributing it all to one of the thousands of deities.

    ( I've tried to express some of the wonder I feel on my Godless Universe page. )

    Deeper understanding of atheism and theism

    I don't want to suggest that atheists understand religion better than all believers, although I suspect that atheists understand it better than many (after all, most atheists started out as believers). This sounds odd, and indeed rather arrogant (again!).

    However, as an atheist you are often challenged to justify yourself and your beliefs. When a Christian meets a Hindu, they just sort of accept each other for what they are. Most Christians have a rough idea of what Hindus believe, and vice versa (one might think that the other is worshipping a false god, but at least they're on the right path). Unfortunately, many theists have a poor idea of what atheists are, and often find it necessary to challenge them, pity them, pray for them or even run them out of town.

    This is what drives atheists to try to understand why theists believe, what theists believe, and why they themselves do not believe. Many atheists actually have a better knowledge of the Bible than a lot of Christians (indeed, it is often this knowledge that drives them away from Christianity). Many people who describe themselves as Christian have never really thought about it very deeply. They just think "Yes, God and Jesus are watching over me, and when I die I'll probably go to Heaven. What's on the television?". People rarely challenge them about their beliefs (and as long as they don't try to impose those beliefs on others, there is no need to challenge them).

    Atheists, on the other hand, seem to be evangelist-magnets. This forces them to think a little more deeply about their lack of belief and also learn about the beliefs of others. (I was having an IRC chat with some Christians recently, and I mentioned the beliefs of Hindus and Muslims. Several people said things like "How do you know so much about this stuff." Well, I don't really, it's just that they knew so relatively little about it.)

    It sounds a bit paradoxical, but losing your religion often gives you a deeper understanding of that religion - you get a much better view of it from the outside.

    Hope for the future

    As an atheist, I believe that this is the only shot we get at life. We have to make the most of it while we can; for ourselves and those who follow us. Our scientific understanding of the universe increases daily, despite the historical and current attempts of organised religion to keep us in the Dark Ages. As knowledge increases, there is less and less room for superstition - the God Of The Gaps is running out of space.

    I believe we have the potential to make the world a better place - free from superstition, fear of the unknown, irrational persecution and harmful dogma. Do we want our children and grand-children to grow up in a world governed by ancient commandments that must be obeyed simply because a priest says so? We must teach them why it is wrong to harm others, not just say "You shouldn't do that - Baby Jesus can see you.". A child should be able to truly understand the reason why an particular action is wrong, not just accept that it is wrong because somebody (parent, priest or god) declares it to be so.

    It's no good expecting God to sort out our problems. It's entirely up to us. I do not think that religion will ever die out entirely, but the world will be a better place without it.

    Conversely, a strong religious belief can actually discourage hope for the future - in this physical form, anyway. There are many people who believe that we are living in the End Times. Biblical prophecy, such as that in Revelations, is about to be fulfilled. Jesus is going to come back, fight with Satan, and rule with the righteous for a thousand years. All this is going to happen within our lifetimes. Or at least, Real Soon Now. This might seem fairly harmless, until you realise that these beliefs also drive theists to enter government and gain positions of power, in order to help prepare the way for the Second Coming. If you believe that the world is about to end, why bother following long-term policies, when it is more important to turn as many people to Christ as possible? Why bother helping the needy in distant countries when there are still children over here who don`t have Bibles? This sort of mentality not only expects Armageddon soon, but actually wants to hasten its arrival to purify the planet. (It seems that President Ronald Reagan held these sorts of beliefs. How scary is that?) But, I digress.


    Atheists are entirely responsible for their own actions and lives. I accept the consequences of my actions. I don't expect a god to get me out of trouble, nor do I blame a Devil for getting me into trouble. I neither expect a reward in an afterlife nor fear a punishment.

    Atheists do things because they feel them to be right, not because they hope to get into Heaven, or fear going to Hell, or because they think they're doing God's will. They do whatever they do knowing that they are responsible to their own conscience, their family, friends and society (of course, the same also applies to many theists).

    To blame a god, demon or evil spirit is to give up your personal responsibility. "The Devil made me do it" is not a good excuse (unless you're mentally ill).

    And finally...

    The knowledge that I'm right and you're wrong.

    [ sorry, couldn't resist that 8-) ]

    © Adrian Barnett 1998
    Last updated : 16th May 1998

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    Britain cannot put its faith in religiously divided schools

    by Richard Heller, Yorkshire Post
    Reposted from:,2144,n,n via

    ALTHOUGH a third of England's state schools are already under religious control, the Government has decided to create even more of them.

    In a private deal with a number of religious leaders, Ministers have committed themselves to remove "unnecessary barriers to the creation of new faith schools", to give such schools additional funding from central government and to encourage fee-paying religious schools to join the state sector.

    In exchange, the religious leaders have signed up to some pious platitudes about building understanding and tolerance of other faiths.

    Many people believe it is incumbent on every citizen, never mind every school, to build understanding and tolerance of others, and that people should not get public money for doing their basic civic duty. The Government has got itself a very poor bargain.

    Children's Minister Ed Balls, who will be cross-examined by MPs today, has suggested that faith groups share the Government's goal of promoting a more cohesive society and that
    faith schools promote integration and community cohesion.

    This suggestion flies in the face of common sense and the experience of Northern Ireland and many other countries, where faith schools have entrenched social, cultural and economic divisions and perpetuated them through succeeding generations.

    Faith schools exist as an emanation of religious faith. Their central and universal premise is that children are better people if they adhere to one particular faith. All other children are in some way inferior or diminished, perhaps even pitiable. They may need to be converted, saved or redeemed: at best, they can be tolerated but never regarded as equal.
    That is what a faith school entails. It is bad enough that the state should fund such an outlook at taxpayers' expense, but to do so in the name of social integration is preposterous.

    Even if faith schools were not divisive, they raise other important issues of principle which the Government has consistently refused to acknowledge or debate.

    All religious faiths, without exception, are self-selecting minorities. They represent groups of people who have chosen certain beliefs.

    Why should any minority group enjoy special funding, influence or control in an essential public service just because of their beliefs? What makes religion so superior to other convictions?

    If we are to have publicly funded faith schools, should we also fund anti-faith schools (for the parents who believe that all religions are harmful)?
    Or, indeed, political schools for parents who believe passionately in a political party – or ornithological schools for the many more parents who believe passionately in protecting birds?

    Ministers claim that faith schools enlarge parental choice. But the Government does not attempt to meet the choice of every single parent for a child's education. Some parents passionately want their child to play cricket for Yorkshire and England and would like their school to prepare him accordingly.

    The state does not meet their wishes.

    More seriously, some parents are racist, homophobic or treat women as inferior, sometimes on the basis of religious belief. The state does not meet their wishes in education.

    These represent extreme cases, but they illustrate how faith schools force government to make invidious decisions.

    Some parental beliefs are encouraged and publicly funded: others are not. They turn the state into a licensing agency for views and beliefs.

    Faith schools also raise the vital question of children's rights. Should children be compelled to receive religious instruction at their parents' behest? Should this be funded by the state?

    In support of its proposal, the Government referred to "Muslim children" along with Hindu and Sikh children as being under-provided with state schools. It would have been more accurate to say "children of Muslim/Hindu/Sikh parents".
    Children should not be identified by their parents' religion: they will make that choice for themselves when they are mature enough and it is no role of the state to promote it.

    Finally, and perhaps most seriously, faith schools will entrench religious politics in our country. They turn every faith into clients of government, and vice versa.

    They make every faith group a lobbyist: whatever public money and power is given to one faith group is automatically demanded by another.
    Within every faith group they encourage factions to compete for the control of public funding, and, even more important, for the power within the community that accompanies control over a school.

    To paraphrase Ernest Bevin, faith schools open up a Pandora's box of Trojan horses for our country.

    Has the Government seriously considered their consequences for children and their rights, for society and for the future of British politics?

    Or has it surrendered, tamely, to well-organised lobbying?

    Richard Heller is an author, journalist and political adviser to Denis Healey, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

    Last Updated: 09 January 2008 8:34 AM

    reposted from:,2144,n,n
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    highlights in yellow blockquotes.

    Comments from,2144,n,n

    2. Comment #113533 by Slyer on January 20, 2008 at 12:33 am

     avatarI need to start my own atheist school, atheists only! No doubt that the fundies wouldn't approve. :)

    3. Comment #113534 by epeeist on January 20, 2008 at 12:34 am

     avatarGood opinion piece, especially as the YP tends to be somewhat conservative in outlook.

    I posted this in another thread -

    Seems Ed Balls might not be as convinced about faith schools as seems to be intimated.

    Incidentally, unless he has changed Dennis Healey isn't religious, my mother was his election agent for a short time and we used to know him reasonably well.

    4. Comment #113541 by JemyM on January 20, 2008 at 12:59 am

     avatarSame people, different books, learning to be tolerant to eachother. Something tells me it's the book that is the problem, not the people. Whenever you label a person based on their thoughts, you do a terrible mistake. We have culturally condemned the idea of class, race, gender and the correct sexuality. Now lets abolish the idea of groups based on "nationality", "culture" and "religion" as well. Stop dividing people with illusionary walls. There is only one type of human.

    5. Comment #113543 by davorg on January 20, 2008 at 1:24 am

     avatarThis piece was written before Ed Balls spoke to MPs and is therefore largely guesswork about what he might say.

    What he actually said was rather different.
    The Government has decided against backing more faith schools, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, told MPs.

    In what is being seen as one of the most significant policy shifts of the post-Tony Blair era in education, he told a Commons select committee: "It is not the policy of the Government nor my department to expand the number of faith schools. We're not leading a drive for more faith schools."

    6. Comment #113547 by tobybarrett on January 20, 2008 at 1:57 am

     avatarIt is good to see the British Government slowly backing away from the ridiculous enthusiasm Blair had for "faith schools" ("sectarian schools" might be a better name).

    But, but, but. This is probably just a change of "mood"; I cannot see the religious groups giving up their control of the education system. Jeremy Hardy once joked: "All religions are keen on educating children - let's face it, they'd never be able to convince adults".

    I fear, these schools and their divisiveness will be with us for many years.

    8. Comment #113553 by Paula Kirby on January 20, 2008 at 2:29 am

     avatarYes, I, too, have been encouraged by more recent news of Ed Balls' position on this topic. But, just in case he gets over-ruled, here are some more ideas for promoting cohesion in our society:

    Let's help disabled children be more integrated into society by schooling them separately from able-bodied children.

    And there's clearly only one way to overcome the communication difficulties between men and women, and that's by ensuring that the 2 sexes never meet in school hours during their formative years.

    As for the lack of understanding between people of different races, well, clearly, the only way to stamp that out once and for all is to keep them apart as much as possible. In fact, why stop at schooling? Why not insist on separate housing areas, separate shopping areas, separate buses and trains? Let's just bring in fully fledged apartheid - after all, that was super-efficient at producing peace, harmony and justice last time it was tried, wasn't it?

    10. Comment #113566 by davorg on January 20, 2008 at 3:56 am

    "sectarian schools" might be a better name
    I've always prefered "superstition schools" :-)

    12. Comment #113572 by ericcolumba on January 20, 2008 at 4:27 am

     avatarNot all faith schools represent the same danger as not all religions are equally repressive, homophobic, mysoginistic and intollerant of the individuals right to abandon the faith that they never chose.

    The creation of state funded muslim schools amounts to government sponsored fascism, all done in the name of multiculturalism and trying not to offend those who believe in the supernatural

    13. Comment #113575 by Paula Kirby on January 20, 2008 at 4:37 am

    ericcolumba: Not all faith schools represent the same danger as not all religions are equally repressive, homophobic, mysoginistic and intollerant of the individuals right to abandon the faith that they never chose.
    That's undoubtedly true, but what they all have in common is the sheer inappropriateness of their being funded publicly.

    14. Comment #113582 by Peacebeuponme on January 20, 2008 at 5:40 am

    It just amazes me that the government wants us to move to increasing the number of faith schools rather than reducing them. I cannot believe that in the 21st century reason is still not winning out. We don't have our own Hogwarts, or astrology schools. I doubt very much you could get approval for a satanist school, so why a catholic or muslim one? What if the Scientologists try to start one?

    They encourage divisiveness and teach rubbish (to varying degrees), and I am astounded that here in the UK we are allowing it. How far does it go? Will we have our very own madrassas in the future?

    One thing the theists point to is how well they perform. This needs to be addressed and action taken to change. Why is it that non-faith schools generally do worse? I suspect the answer lies in the selection methods of the faith schools.

    15. Comment #113583 by Peacebeuponme on January 20, 2008 at 5:42 am

    inappropriateness of their being funded publicly.
    I would fo further. I don't want children of this country indoctrinated with private funds either.

    18. Comment #113593 by octopus on January 20, 2008 at 6:28 am

    Cannot wait to see the first school for Jedi knights to be publicly funded. May force be with you!

    9. Comment #113594 by Nick Good on January 20, 2008 at 6:34 am

    I need to start my own atheist school, atheists only! No doubt that the fundies wouldn't approve. :)
    That's a good point, it might be a good tactic too.

    Rather than non-denominational schools, motivate for the state to fund schools, where the parents have to be members of the National Secular Society!

    Or more realistically, it's a strong argument to use as a counter example - by way of Reductio ad absurdum - to set against arguments for 'faith schools' which use religious selection.

    In practice, I wouldn't support atheist schools either. Schools should be non-denominational, religion should be taught as a subject - comparative religion, rather than any one 'brand' being inculcated into young, impressionable minds by indoctrination.

    There should be no religious selection criteria in any school, for teachers or pupils; anymore than there should be any racial selection criteria. It should be seen as simply not-acceptable, anymore than it would be acceptable for the British Army, Tescos or the National Health Service, to have a selection process that favoured by race or's well time for the zeitgeist with regards religion in education to catch up with that regarding race. UK education is behind the curve when compared to the employment field, where outside of specific religious establishments, selection by religion, is getting to be just not acceptable.

    We are in danger of slipping backwards, if the argument for religious schools holds, then why not for tertiary education institutions? I wont tangent in detail onto the disestablishment argument....but it does come to mind.

    In practice, the biggest problem at the moment, is with Islam. Anlglicinism, the UK state religion, and Christianity in general, are in terminal decline in the UK.

    Now personally, I don't see being an 'Islmophobe' as a pejorative at all, not in the slightest. Rather it's a tad oxymoronic, as 'fear of Islam' is anything but a 'phobia', meaning irrational - given Islam's koranic literalist mainstream form and it's history of being promulgated by violence since the time of the 'prophet'; something which manifests all over the World, to this day. This, combined with current Islamic demographics in the UK, as well as other countries, boosted by fecundity, serial immigration and massive global Saudi funding.

    There are 150 new state funded Islamic schools in the pipeline in the UK, think about this good people! I think this is more than silly, and to put it mildly, is directly contrary to the UK's national interest.

    We're going to see more of this sort of thing, which, to use a Kofi Annan-esque understatement, gives me cause for 'deep concern' - We want to offer Sharia Law in Britain

    22. Comment #113626 by Friend Giskard on January 20, 2008 at 8:05 am

     avatarComment #113533 by Slyer on January 20, 2008 at 12:33 am
    I need to start my own atheist school, atheists only! No doubt that the fundies wouldn't approve. :)

    In fact someone has very recently tried to start a secular (not atheist) school in Britain, but the government soon put a stop to it. Read about it here:

    27. Comment #113842 by dragonfirematrix on January 20, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Oh, those continuous dubious flirtations with faith… of mixing politics and religion…

    We need to get back to basics. We need to get back to truth. We need to start atheist-based schools, evolution-based schools, humanist-based schools, secular humanist based schools, Wicca-based schools etc. I bet this would excite the faith based!

    28. Comment #113994 by cassdenata on January 21, 2008 at 7:13 am

    It is good to see the consciousness-raising of not labeling children by their parents religion, that Professor Dawkins is promoting, is catching on.,2144,n,n

    +++++++Comments from

    Paul Bohanna,

    N. Shropshire 19/01/2008 16:04:48
    An excellent article that puts many of the issues concerning religious schools very clearly. Most people in this country are not religious, a tiny minority attend any form of worship ever. The number of religious weddings and funerals as well as church attendance has been dropping dramatically for many years and continues to do so.
    In time, if left to themselves, these outdated superstitous institutions would become extinct. That is why they are so desperate to wield their disproportionate political power to force their indoctrination upon our children.
    Children are vulnerable to this kind of irrational brainwashing.
    An indoctrinated child = a new recruit = more money and power for the churches.
    Religious institutions are already unbelievably wealthy with billions in cash before even considering the huge swathes of land and other assets they have managed to 'accquire' over the centuries.

    The sooner all religions are removed from schools, the better. As usual the government is completely out of touch with the people. But then what choice do we have when every major party has pledged its support for religious schools?


    Hedon 20/01/2008 11:56:58
    "Left to themselves, these outdated superstitous institutions would become extinct," you say, Paul: in which case, one wonders why you appear so reluctant to leave them to themselves? Which kind of school presently produces the best results? Why do parents have their children baptised simply to obtain a place in those schools? I taught in faith schools for almost my entire career; they bend over backwards to be inclusive and socially cohesive. It seems to me that the perspecive from which you write is concerned neither with faith nor education, but with mere politics - and nothing has been more damaging to education for the last 20 years than politics.


    Tokyo 21/01/2008 08:55:05
    Claudius, the reason for the apparent success of faith schools in exam tables has nothing to do with their religious ethos and everything to do with their cherry-picking the best students. If they were forced to take children on the same basis as all other schools, the apparent success would vanish like the illusion it really is.


    Hedon 21/01/2008 10:12:20
    I'm afraid the suggestion that faith schools cherry pick pupils for their academic ability is mere nonsense, Kimpatsu: it rather creates the impression that you don't really know what you're talking about. I've seen well-behaved, hard working and extremely capable pupils turned away fron faith schools with the available places awarded to thick, thoroughly nasty pieces of work, simply on the grounds that the latter was baptised. The only grounds that faith schools have beyond those of ordinary state schools so far as selection is concerned relates to faith - not ability. So far as performance is concerned, it actually works against faith schools when they are compelled to take an objectionable pupil becuse he or she subscribes (or pretends to subscribe) to the relevant faith.