Thursday, July 31, 2008

Truth stranger than falsehood

At the World Congress of Philosophy everyone at least tries to pretend to take strange beliefs seriously

I'm attending the twice-a-decade thinkathon known as the World Congress of Philosophy and it's turning into a case study of one its own biggest questions:

is there one truth or many?

It is ironic that philosophy – the subject that aspires to describe the most universal and fundamental truths – is probably, as a matter of fact, the least universal discipline of all.
At any global scientific gathering, for example, you could at least be sure that everyone there was doing the same subject. They'd also largely use the same methods and, except at the cutting edge, would agree on a huge body of fact too.

In philosophy, however, what counts as universal is very local. Here in Seoul, the diverse approaches on display at the conference range from Jainism, Buddhism and Confucianism, through to Hegelian dialectics, hermeneutics and Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Although all are welcome into the philosophy family for the congress, it is not clear that what they mean by philosophy is the same thing at all.


dialogue is de rigeur and everyone does their best to at least pretend to treat all the different forms of philosophy equally. But this is politics, not philosophy.
For instance, I've just been to a session by an organisation called Jain Vishva Bharati, in which 10 people lined up to describe "The Role of Jainism in Evolving a New Paradigm of Philosophy". To put it diplomatically, this is not a new paradigm that is likely to find many adherents at present. For instance. one speaker evoked the experiments of Masaru Emoto, an amateur scientist who claimed to show that if you spoke ugly or beautiful words to droplets of water, froze them, and then took microscopic photographs of them, the images would be ugly and beautiful accordingly. I hope I don't need to tell you whether his views are widely shared in the scientific community.

However, the chair of the session called on the incoming president of FISP (The International Federation of Philosophical Societies) William McBride to join the panel and give his blessing, and of course, this he had to do, saying how much he agreed with many of their objectives, such as world peace.

They then called on former president Ioanna Kuçuradi to do the same. Only the day before she had spoken about the need to resist relativism and insist knowledge has an object. The Jainists, however, had explicitly denied the "binary system of logic" which "maintains that if something is true it cannot be false." "This is not acceptable to the Jain point of view," said Prof SR Bhatt, although presumably he would allow that it was acceptable too.

Kuçuradi couldn't be as fulsome in her support as McBride was, and she had the honesty to admit that although she valued different world views, philosophy is not a world view, implying she could not endorse what was being said as philosophy.

Kuçuradi managed to make a distinction that many miss. It is one thing to accept people's right to hold different views and to be against the imposition of one world view on another. But it is quite another to insist that this requires holding that there is no one truth, or that reality is just what you think it is.

It is vital we follow Kuçuradi's lead and

don't allow a desire to respect others to lead us to believe, or pretend to believe, that we agree more than we do. Much interfaith and intercultural dialogue has so far been so much hot air, because the desire not to offend has interfered with the need to be honest about what divides us.
As to whether the misguided desire or the required need is prevailing in Seoul, so far I fear the lesser virtue is prevailing.

Universe's first stars bulk up in new simulation

19:00 31 July 2008
  • news service
  • Stephen Battersby
  • The universe's first stars began as tiny seeds that snowballed into behemoths weighing 100 Suns (Illustration: David A Aguilar/CfA)
    The universe's first stars began as tiny seeds that snowballed into behemoths weighing 100 Suns

    (Illustration: David A Aguilar/CfA)

    The Genius of Charles Darwin on Channel 4

    By Margaret Nelson - Posted on 29 July 2008

    A546511058_636249_9985TV to look out for; Richard Dawkins on Charles Darwin, Monday 4 August, 8pm, Channel 4 with Part 2 of 3 a week later on 11th August, 8pm.

    As we approach the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin's masterpiece, On The Origin Of Species, ethologist and writer Richard Dawkins presents the ultimate guide to Darwin and his revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection. Dawkins considers this to be the most important idea to have ever occured to a human mind.

    In this powerful three-part polemical series, Dawkins explains who Charles Darwin (pictured) was, how he developed his theory, what it is, and why it matters. He reveals how Darwin changed forever the way we see ourselves, the world and our place in it, and hopes to convince us that "evolution is a fact, backed by undeniable evidence".

    According to recent polls, four out of ten British people still believe in God as the creator of the universe and everything in it. As a scientist, and Britain's best-known atheist, Dawkins believes that such people simply don't know enough about the evidence for Darwin's entirely natural explanation of life on Earth - evolution.

    The Genius of Charles Darwin showing on Channel 4 : DigiGuide Forums.

    Dylan Moran on Religion

    Dylan Moran (wiki) is at Bournemouth BIC this November 12th.

    Jul 30, 2008 14:04:19 GMT

    Hilarious Irish comedian known for his surreal blend of (apparent) alcohol, caffeine and nicotine fuelled musings; Dylan Moran lends his wisdom to the subject of religion, with a comic brilliance that typifies his every performance. This clip is from his second dvd stand-up show ‘Like Totally…’. Moran also wrote and starred in the sitcom Black Books, along side fellow comedians Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig.


    Religions thrived to protect against disease

    by Roger Highfield, Telegraph

    Reposted from:


    Religions thrived to protect our ancestors against the ravages of disease, according to a radical new evolutionary theory of the genesis of faith.

    Prof Richard Dawkins the atheist and sceptic, has condemned religion as a "virus of the mind" but it seems that people became religious for good reason - actually to avoid infection by viruses and other diseases - according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences.

    Dr Corey Fincher and Prof Randy Thornhill of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, come to this conclusion after studying why religions are far more numerous in the tropics compared with the temperate areas.

    "Why does Cote d'Ivoire have 76 religions while Norway has 13, and why does Brazil have 159 religions while Canada has 15 even though in both comparisons the countries are similar in size?" they ask.

    The reason is that religion helps to divide people and reduce the spread of diseases, which are more common the hotter the country, the research suggests.

    Any society that increased its coherence by adopting a religion, and dealt less with local groups with other beliefs as a result of cultural isolation, gained an advantage in being less likely to pick up diseases from its neighbours, and in the longer term to have a slightly different genetic makeup that may offer protective effects, for instance by making them less susceptible to a virus.

    Equally, societies where infectious diseases are more common are less likely to migrate and disperse, not because of the effects of disease itself but as a behaviour that has evolved over time.

    " If this argument is correct then, across the globe, religion diversity should correlate positively with infectious disease diversity," they say.

    And the team finds evidence to back this.

    "A sample of traditional societies shows that the range of those societies is lower in areas with more disease agents, compared with areas with few pathogens, and in countries religion diversity is positively related to two measures of stress caused by infection with parasites. Religion richness was positively related to disease richness (and significantly so)."

    As predicted, "we found that religion diversity is the highest where disease diversity is also the highest and the lowest where disease diversity is also the lowest. To our knowledge, previous evolutionary models do not offer an explanation for why religion diversity varies spatially across the globe.

    "Our analysis suggests that the nature of religion needs to be reconsidered. Although religion apparently is for establishing a social marker of group alliance and allegiance, at the most fundamental level, it may be for the avoidance and management of infectious disease."

    62. Comment #222210 by crabsallover on July 31, 2008 at 12:45 am

     avataroriginal reference: The Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biology journal


    See figure 1 page 5 - shows correlation between disease richness and number of religions in countries.

    Wednesday, July 30, 2008

    Camp Quest UK - it's beyond belief!

    Came across this site via Atheist Nexus member Samantha Stein.

    Question, Understand, Explore, Study, Think
    Camp Quest UK is a residential summer camp for the children (age 8-17) of Atheists, Agnostics, Freethinkers, Humanists, Brights, or whatever other terms might be applied to those who hold to a naturalistic, not supernatural world view.

    Camp Quest's purpose is to build a strong, healthy community among the young participants aged 8-17. In addition to fun camp activities such as swimming, canoeing, fishing, archery, campfires, stargazing, and outdoor sports, Camp Quest's knowledgeable counsellors and guest volunteers will lead the youth in learning activities that teach them about freethought and humanist principals. Activities cover critical thinking, science, history, civics, and ethics. Campers develop and improve their rational thinking skills in fun, hands-on learning activities and programs.

    About Us

    Camp Quest UK is in early stages and we intend to hold our first camp in summer 2009. We are the sister organisation of Camp Quest Inc., an American non-profit organisation with 6 successful camps across North America.

    Camp Quest was first held in 1996 and until 2002 was operated by the Free Inquiry Group, Inc. (FIG) of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. The idea for the project originated with Edwin Kagin and he and his wife Helen served as Camp Directors for the first ten years of the original Camp Quest, retiring at the end of the 2005 camp session.

    Camp Quest is important because critical thinking and skepticism are vitally important in our world and not always taught or taught well in schools, where there is often simply an imperative to get kids to “do as they are told” and “follow authority”. It’s up to us to help our children understand that it’s ok to disagree and teach productive ways to challenge ideas.

    Listen to a feature on Camp Quest from the Humanist Network News (HNN) Audio Podcast

    Board of Directors

    Samantha Stein Samantha Stein - Camp Director
    Samantha volunteered at Camp Quest Michigan in 2007 where the idea for bringing Camp Quest to the UK was first discussed. She has since then spearheaded the efforts to make this happen. She currently studies Psychology at York University.

    Tye Hadlington - Chair
    A long time member of the BHA and NSS, Tye brings his past experience running student and research committees to the table to co-ordinate the project management for CQUK. His day job working as a software engineer in the Defence sector, ensures a high standard of reliability and integrity in this role.

    Richard Craig - Treasurer
    Blurb coming soon!

    John Sargeant - Secretary
    Blurb coming soon!

    YOU do NOT have to be a scientist to join

    July 29, 2008 · Filed Under Announcements, Education, Science

    Some discussion Topic Titles from the British Humanists Association science group are shown below (The logo shown is under consideration for adoption and probably represents your attitude too!! - you may be surprised with what you find there and you can help to change peoples understanding of science).

    Scince logo1

    Seven reasons why people hate reason

    Friends of Imperial College. Special Summer Programme for 2008/9.

    Another group to consider. [ PSCI-COM]

    Science and morality Part 7: On sanity

    Cheltenham09[Science Festival] - Miller’s Experiment

    URGENT SUPPORT BEGGED from Kurukshetra, India

    Great Global Warming Swindle: Ofcom findings

    IF YOU HAVE NEVER POSTED….Come on in the water is…

    Templeton sponsors ‘research’ on evolution and God

    Science in the vision statement of the BHA

    I need somethin’

    From the USA : Science and Humanism

    Is creativity a gene?

    Science and morality: Part 5: Morality as a social system

    Should the BHA campaign on green issues?

    To join up visit

    From Turkey to Germany to the States, religious people are intent on taking us back to the middle ages. So it goes: creep creep...

    Road to nowhere

    From Turkey to Germany to the States, religious people are intent on taking us back to the middle ages
    I enjoyed the subtlety of the Guardian's page 13 layout yesterday. It was the first page of the international section, and it contained two stories, the first about legal moves in Turkey's constitutional court to disband the country's ruling AKP party on the grounds that it is threatening Turkey's secularist constitution, the second about complaints by Polish holidaymakers who find the nudity on German "free body culture" beaches disgusting.

    To the alert eye the connection is direct. Admirers of the Catholic culture of Poland will assuredly be delighted by its success in making the unclothed human frame an object of disgust. Admirers of Islamic culture will be delighted to find that Turkish Islamists are encouraging more women to hide that automatic trigger of unbridled male lust, the tresses on the female head.

    These are tips of icebergs. In fact the influence of religious attitudes in distorting and limiting aspects of human life, even to the extent of perverting, imprisoning and poisoning them at the extremes, is too well known to require rehearsal.

    It was against the domination of life by religion that Mustapha Kemal Atatürk acted, founding a secular republic which sought to move religion from "the realm of the state to the realm of belief" – which is how Turkey's current deputy prosecutor, Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, puts it in explaining the basis of the case against

    the AKP, which has – even by the admission of some of its own MPs – been conducting a non-too-subtle yet hypocritically disavowed campaign of re-Islamicisation.

    The worshippers of Brian's sandal everywhere are tireless and persistent in their efforts to recapture the world for dogma. In America the creationists and so-called "intelligent design" votaries expend vast sums and energy on trying to drag us back into medieval times. Islamists have never left them – except of course in freely using today's technology to further their aims. Cherry-pickers all, the Brian-sandalistas want it all: they want the rest of us to think and act as they prescribe, and to make us do it by the means that infidel thinking has produced: for example, religious freakery is all over the internet like a rash.

    If the Brian-sandalistas cannot succeed by direct assault, they will do it by constant nibbling and encroachments: prayers in American publicly-funded schools, headscarves in Turkish publicly-funded universities, a little bit of anti-evolutionary biology there, a little alcohol ban there – and if that doesn't work, they try more robust means.

    So it goes: creep creep, whisper, soothe, murmur a prayer with the kids in assembly, ecumenicalise, interfaith-schmooze, infiltrate, subvert, complain, campaign, scream, threaten, explode.

    The asymmetry is stark. Secularists say, "believe whatever nonsense you want, but keep it to yourself and act responsibly". The Brian-sandalistas say, "believe what we want you to believe and act as we say". The psychopaths among them say, "believe what we want you to believe and act as we say or we will kill you".

    Meanwhile the residue of attitudes and practices once foisted on everyone by the zealous still dog and bedevil us, as witness the poor benighted Catholic Poles suffering at the sight of what - you have to larf - they presumably believe God created.

    There is nothing trivial about the problem in Turkey; and the problem in Turkey is the problem for the world at large. It is about boundaries, about the place of religious belief in the public domain, its effects on individual lives, and its effect on public policy. The history of "the west" is in essence a history of secularisation, and most even of those who decry what they see as its imperfections would not willingly be without the huge advances it has wrought in scientific, social and political respects.

    Think: if the clocks could be turned back as the Brians want, the English would be ruled by two people: The Queen and Rowan Williams.

    You might be tempted to think that would be an improvement on Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, and preferable to Cameron and his friends from his house at Eton. But what if, say, Hizb ut-Tahrir got its way – it wants the Caliphate back, and by the logic of its outlook, a worldwide one.

    The ambition of the faiths – once they have finished warring with us and each other – is, remember, infinite by definition: and even one mile in the direction of any of their various paradises-on-earth would be a hell for all but those running the journey.

    School and religious symbol cases

    Sarika Singh
    Sarika Singh was excluded from Aberdare Girls' School in November
    A teenager from south Wales has won her claim that she was discriminated against because she was not allowed to wear a religious bangle to school.

    Sarika Singh was told she was breaking the uniform's 'no jewellery' policy, and had been excluded from school for nine months.

    But the High Court agreed with her that it was an expression of her Sikh faith and that she was a victim of unlawful discrimination.

    The case of Sarika Singh draws parallels with other cases where religious symbols have caused controversy in schools. Here are some of the cases that have made the headlines.


    Shabina Begum, 15, a pupil at Denbigh High School in Luton, won a 2005 court of appeal battle to be allowed to wear head-to-toe religious dress - the jilbab - at school. The school did allow girls to wear the hijab, a headscarf, and trousers and tunic, but refused Miss Begum permission to come to classes in full-length dress.

    The school won its appeal at the House of Lords. In a unanimous ruling, the judges said the school had "taken immense pains to devise a uniform policy which respected Muslim beliefs".

    Lydia Playfoot, was told by Millais School in Horsham, West Sussex, that she must remove a "purity ring", which signifies that she does not believe in sex before marriage, or face expulsion. Miss Playfoot took her case to the High Court in July 2007 but the inquiry ruled that she had not suffered any discrimination.


    Girls at Icknield High School in Luton, Bedfordshire, were given the go-ahead to wear Muslim headscarves in 2004. The decision came after a prospective Muslim pupil at the school found that hijabs were not on the approved uniform list, forcing a review of the policy.

    Samantha Devine, a 13-year-old Catholic pupil at the Robert Napier School in Gillingham, Kent, was told last year
    not to wear a crucifix on a chain because it breached health and safety rules. School bosses told her that she could wear a crucifix as a small lapel badge but not on a chain.


    In 2006 the Madani High School in Leicester announced that non-Muslim girls at the faith school would be required to wear head scarves regardless of their religion. The school, which is required by law to accept 10% of non-Muslim students, said that all pupils would be required to cover their heads while at school.


    Aishah Azmi, 24, a British Muslim teacher who refused to remove her veil in a primary school during lessons, lost her discrimination test case against Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury in 2006 but was awarded £1,100 for victimisation in the way the dispute was handled.

    Sikh girl wins bangle law battle

    Sarika Singh
    Sarika Singh after her high Court victory

    A 14-year-old Sikh girl has won her High Court discrimination claim against her school after it excluded her for breaking its "no jewellery" rule.

    Sarika Singh, from Cwmbach, south Wales, was excluded by Aberdare Girls' School in November 2007 for refusing to take off her religious bangle.

    A High Court judge in London ruled on the controversial matter after reserving judgement last month.

    The school said it would consider the judgement "in detail".

    Sarika says the Kara bangle - a slim steel bracelet - is important to her as it is a symbol of her Sikh faith.

    As a result of the judgement, Sarika is allowed to return to the school in September, wearing the Kara.

    Teenager wins legal bangle battle

    Her lawyers had told Mr Justice Stephen Silber that the Kara was as important to her as it was to England spin bowler Monty Panesar, who has been pictured wearing the bangle.

    The judge declared the school was guilty of indirect discrimination under race relations and equality laws.

    After the judgement, Sarika said: "I am overwhelmed by the outcome and it's marvellous to know that the long journey I've been on has finally come to an end.

    "I'm so happy to know that no-one else will go through what me and my family have gone through and no other pupil will ever get banned from wearing their Kara again.

    "I just want to say that I am a proud Welsh and Punjabi Sikh girl."

    Sarika's mother, Sinita, 38, added: "We are over the moon. It is just such a relief."

    Her father Satnam Singh read a statement which said: "We are very pleased with the outcome of the case but we are extremely disappointed that we had to come to the High court in the order to give our daughter the right to wear the Kara in school."

    Mr Justice Silber said he had been told the Kara bangle was regarded as vital to the Sikh religion.

    It denoted the "God's infinity" he said and was effectively a "handcuff to God."

    The judge rejected claims by the school that the bangle, which he said was less obtrusive than some watches, could be seen as a "symbol of affluence."

    He said many watches which were allowed at the school were more expensive than than the simple plain steel Kara.

    Sarika Singh and her bangle
    Sarika Singh's is the latest in a number of religious dress cases

    He commented: "In this case there is very clear evidence it was not a piece of jewellery but to Sarika was, and remains, one of the defining focal symbols of being a Sikh."

    He said his decision had already been made known to the school authorities, who had agreed to Sarika returning at the start of the next term in September when she will begin preparing for her GCSEs.

    The judge also refused the school permission to appeal, although it can still seek permission from the Court of Appeal.

    The governors and head teacher at the school said in a statement that the decision to defend their action was taken after careful consideration by all concerned, and in good faith.

    "It was not taken lightly. We regret that this action became at all necessary," they said.

    "We note the comments of the judge regarding the advice offered to the school.

    "Should Sarika wish to return to school in September, in accordance with the judgment, she will be offered help and support to reintegrate her into the normal day-to-day life of the school."

    Symbols of faith should be allowed in schools as long as they don't cause a safety hazard
    Chris, London, UK

    Liberty, which backed Sarika, argued the school had breached race relations, equality and human rights laws

    They said it also contravened a 25-year-old law lords' decision which allows Sikh children to wear items representing their faith, including turbans, to school.

    Anna Fairclough, the Singh family's solicitor, said: "It's a shame that each generation has to fight the same battles. This battle was already fought 25 years ago and Sarika shouldn't have had to go through that again.

    "Our great British traditions of religious tolerance and race equality have been rightly upheld today."

    A spokesperson for Rhondda Cynon Taf council said it had been informed of the High Court's judgement in the case and it would "be working with the school's governing body to ensure Sarika Singh's continued education."

    Sikh teenager wins right to wear religious bangle to school

    Full marks to British tolerance

    A Sikh teenager has won the right to wear a religious bangle to school. It's a victory for open-mindedness and common sense

    The Sikh schoolgirl Sarika Watkins-Singh's victory at the high court to wear her "kara", the steel bangle worn by Sikhs, is a reflection of British tolerance and a common-sense approach to different cultural communities when compared to the more fundamentalist approach of countries such as France. Twenty-first century France still cannot come to grips with a turban-wearing schoolchild. But it is sad that Sarika had to go to the court at all. As her solicitor said, each generation seems to have to go through the same struggles.

    All the articles and practices of Sikhs signify the various concepts of Sikh philosophy. The articles were enjoined to the Sikhs by the gurus, particularly the 10th and last of the gurus some 300 years ago. The Sikhs have dutifully maintained them.

    No simple explanations were offered at the time when these articles were first bestowed. The Sikhs were told they would begin to understand the manifestations of the complexities of Sikh philosophy in everyday life by maintaining them.

    A common reason given for the kara is that it reminds a Sikh of commitments to ethical values such as the need to respect the dignity of others, not to commit bad acts, uphold human rights and so on.
    The kara is usually worn on the arm most used by the individual, ie the left wrist for lefthanded people.

    Another explanation has been that the kara, made of traditional steel, was a clever way of ensuring iron absorption through the skin. Iron deficiency anaemia was common due to poor diets. No empirical evidence exists to verify its value in maintaining iron concentrations in the body.

    An important aspect of the kara is that it signifies and makes one understand the cyclical and complex approach of the Sikh worldview. Sikh philosophy like some other Indic systems, take a fundamentally different position to the linearity of time and space of Abrahamic creeds. There is no beginning and end of existence.

    According to Sikh worldview everything that takes form comes to an end but reforms in other ways. Thus even universes come and go, galaxies coexist in different time spans, time is cyclical and even space loses dimensions to collapse into "nothing". And new universes begin, new worlds begin as new time spans and space dimensions start. Holding this complex view and understanding its significance to our everyday approach to life is extremely difficult.

    The kara helps us to understand that our life and even the lifespan of nations, ideas, communities, the earth and so on is transitory.
    A Sikh should remain engaged but not fanatically absorbed at the exclusion of contemplating the wider eternal drama. The two are intertwined. But the trick is to remain fully engaged in life, and yet work one's self out of the cycles towards the eternal reality which is neither born nor destroyed, not seen nor felt, has no form and is not limited by space or time. The kara, a simple bracelet to many, a source of iron to some, a way of stopping bad deeds and shaping good citizens to others also signifies a very different and complex philosophical approach to everyday life. It is rooted in temporality yet attached to a deeper truth.

    The judgment will reiterate the different and pragmatic nature of British law compared to the continental system. Sikhs and hopefully other communities will be able to maintain their cultural, ethnic and religious articles where they do not affect security or hygiene or public order, without sanction from the secular fanatics.
    Full marks to British tolerance and a sensible judge.

    Birmingham Council ban on atheist websites

    by BBC

    A city council has blocked its staff from looking at websites about atheism.

    Lawyers at the National Secular Society said the move by Birmingham City Council was "discriminatory" and they would consider legal action.

    The rules also ban sites that promote witchcraft, the paranormal, sexual deviancy and criminal activity.

    The city council declined to comment on the possible legal action, but said the new system helped make it easier for managers to monitor staff web access.

    'Very strong case'

    The authority's Bluecoat Software computer system allows staff to look at websites relating to Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and other religions but blocks sites to do with "witchcraft or Satanism" and "occult practices, atheistic views, voodoo rituals or any other form of mysticism".

    Under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003, it is unlawful to discriminate against workers because of their religion or belief, which includes atheism.

    National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson said the city council's rules also discriminated against people who practise witchcraft, which is also classed as a legitimate belief.

    He said the society would initially contact the council and ask for the policy to be changed, and otherwise pursue legal action.

    He said he believed he would have a "very strong case".

    Mr Sanderson said: "It is discriminatory not only against atheists but they also are banning access to sites to do with witchcraft.
    "Witchcraft these days is called Wicca, which is an actual legitimate and recognised religion.
    "We feel very strongly that people who don't believe should not be denied the access that people who do believe have got."

    He added that some opinion polls said that up to 25% of the UK population now considered themselves atheist.

    A city council statement said the authority had a "long-standing internet usage policy for staff".

    It added: "We are currently implementing new internet monitoring software to make the control of internet access easier to manage.

    "The aim of this is to provide greater control for individual line managers to monitor internet usage, and for departments, such as trading standards and child protection, to gain access, if needed, to certain sites for business reasons."

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Nobel Physicist on Faith and Certainty

    Richard Feynmann on science, faith and certainty.

    Richard Feynman talks about light and the inconceivable nature of nature!

    The amazing nature of all the different waves with different wavelengths - tremendous mess of light waves! The inconceivable nature of nature!

    Source (just by chance came across this gem):

    Faith is not the answer

    by Terry Sanderson, Guardian
    Thanks to Linda Ward Selbie for the link.

    Faith is not the answer

    Whatever you think of our modern-day woes – and some aren't even all that woeful – religion doesn't offer the solution

    Speaking at the Lambeth conference,
    the chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has said that almost all of the ills that plague modern society are caused by our lack of religion.
    Since we stopped going to church we've become a nation of fat, isolated, divorced, graceless and uncaring slobs who spend all our time online creating "ever smaller sects of the like-minded."

    Families are falling apart, loneliness is escalating and so on.

    The ills that he identifies are all real, of course. Obesity is becoming an epidemic, more people are complaining about depression and isolation and divorce is on the rise.

    But isn't the same true of the US – with knobs on? And isn't the States supposed to be one of the most religious nations in the world, not to mention one of the most violent?
    I have a different explanation from the rabbi about the way that our society is developing. I believe that some of the things that he complains about are not necessarily negative at all. The rising divorce rate could simply be an acknowledgment that marriage doesn't work for everyone. It is only since we have been released from the shackles of religion that we have we been able to do anything about it. In days of old, when religion ruled every aspect of our lives, divorce was not an option, except for the very rich.
    And so millions (mainly women) endured lives of utter misery in marriages that verged on torture.
    Obesity is a sign of our affluence, not of our atheism. In deeply religious countries in the developing world there is little obesity. But that has nothing to do with religion restraining people's greed, it is to do with poverty and lack of opportunity.

    Yes, new technology can be isolating, we know that, and a new publication by a government advisor suggests that we should be less materialistic and send fewer emails if we want to be happy.
    But being less materialistic doesn't necessarily mean we have to once more embrace the incredible claims of religion. There are other ways to be philanthropic that don't involve taking orders from priests. Many non-believers work in hospitals, welfare services and voluntary groups. They get a lot of personal satisfaction from such work that goes well beyond the (usually miserly) pay packet.

    Yes, we need to make a real effort to take our eyes off the computer monitor and set them on to real people. To do our communication face-to-face rather than through the keyboard. There is something truly uplifting about a good conversation with someone we like, and in solving problems together in person.

    Rabbi Sacks thinks we should all troop back to church/synagogue and all the problems would be solved. We would stop splitting into ever smaller interest groups, he says. But then, he was talking to the Anglican Communion, so they would be able to understand precisely with what he's saying.

  • macanna's profile picture macanna

    Jul 29 08, 6:47pm (about 4 hours ago)

    Here we go again. Now can we all resist turning this into an exact copy of the comments on the AC Greyling article earlier today? I am not holding my breath.

    Obviously the good rabbi is barking. However just because someone is mentally ill does not make them dangerous. So it is with religous adherents, they are not necessarily dangerous. Just some of them.

    Clearly the ills of our modern society are because religion has failed. What a relief - all we have to do is come up with an alternative. New Labour anyone? Or was that just Catholicism in disguise? I suggest over eating, having sex with people we are not married to of any gender, and ignoring those idiots in our family. Sounds great to me! Could it catch on?

  • WoollyMindedLiberal's profile picture WoollyMindedLiberal

    Jul 29 08, 6:55pm (about 4 hours ago)


    Obviously the good rabbi is barking

    He has a lovely, deep, mellifluous and inspiring voice. When he is talking he sounds most impressive. But when you read it in printed form it looks trite or simply dull and uninspired.

  • cebolla's profile picture cebolla

    Jul 29 08, 6:57pm (about 4 hours ago)

    But that's the way religions work isn't it...everything will be ok as long as we are controlled, as long as we are limited, and cowed. It will all be fine as long as people just believe this stuff.

    Trouble is, it's not just unbelievable, it's ridiculous. And such an obvious remnant of primitive man's first attempts to answer questions that were, for him, unanswerable. Many of those questions are still unanswerable for us, but we're whittling them down. We're at least still asking them! Religion would have us not ask, the answers are already there...discovered by primitive man, who ate his own cack.

    I believe I am quoting Parliament (or were they Funkadelic then..?) when I say : "Think! It ain't illegal yet!"

  • #
    fluorospacedon's profile picture fluorospacedon

    Jul 29 08, 7:04pm (about 4 hours ago)

    Religion is the source of all evil.

    Besides being a completely imbecil way to look upon life.

    It has been used for thousands of years to oppress and stupidify people.

    That it is still allowed at all proves that as a species humans can't yet be considered rational.

    Bluecloud's profile picture Bluecloud

    Jul 29 08, 7:19pm (about 3 hours ago)

    Our society has certainly become lost. Religion relies on blind faith, but I rely on reason.

    As we look for a deeper meaning for life we find only the consumer society as the offered solution by those in power. No wonder people are becoming obese!

    How about our role models? Emulating Amy is not a good plan. Infact she has managed to make clear where our consumerism can ultimately lead us! And as for the politicians!

    If we found a system which focused us on looking after our civilisation, rather than relenting to santuary in consumerism & religion, we might realise that there is something to live for and even celebrate!

    I live in hope.

    LucyQ's profile picture LucyQ

    Jul 29 08, 7:32pm (about 3 hours ago)

    The Museum of Sex in New York City has a fantastic exhibition on currently titled The Sex Lives of Animals.

    The exhibit is rooted in science and is a must see for everyone as it shows how completely and utterly stupid the monotheistic religions are with regards to how, what and why we are. I am quite convinced that the bible, torah and koran exist as manifestations of human cruelty and divisiveness. Since they were invented by misogynist males to control women and the other it is high time that everyone stand up for human decency and insist that they compendiums be shelved with porn, for consenting adult eyes only. Those who suggest that for the few of us alive today who have the luxury of complete freedom are poorer because we don't join in practicing superstition are lying to themselves and anyone else that listens to their idiocy.


    Jul 29 08, 7:59pm (about 3 hours ago)

    Terry, don't know if you read the comments, but wanted to pick up on something you were quoted on over at the bbc: "He added that some opinion polls said that up to 25% of the UK population now considered themselves atheist. "

    In fact, according to the latest YouGov poll, 36% don't believe and 25% are not sure. Of those that do believe 34% say that religion is not very important and 5% say it is unimportant. So only 24% of Britons both believe in God also think religion is at least somewhat important. For 3 out of 4 Britons, religion is simply unimportant. (p9)


    Jul 29 08, 9:15pm (about 2 hours ago)

    What I want from the society I live in is compassion, equality of opportunity, a redistributive taxation policy, all the leftie stuff of a socialist utopia. It is easy to confuse some of these values with the values of religion. Indeed a just society is a secondary goal (after obedience to god/dogma etc) of many religions.

    The difficulty I have with religion as a route to achieve that goal, leaving aside the absurd supernatural stuff, is that after thousands of years it has delivered NOTHING. If this stuff actually worked, maybe I could pretend to go along with the fairy stuff. But all religion has managed to create is division. And as for religion''s role in the subjugation of women, they are STILL at it!

    How could it be otherwise? Placing obedience to dogma above compassion for one another is shameless and immoral.

    I do not have a solution to the terrible suffering in this world, but religion is not that solution, it is part of the problem.

    The Rabbi is yesterday's enslavement, soliciting tomorrow's victims.


    Jul 29 08, 9:40pm (about 1 hour ago)

    Well said Terry. We certainly do not need to invoke the supernatural to cure the world's ills. And as for obese people - it must be said, one only has to look to the USA, the most religious nation in the developed world, where the waist is as supersized as the carbon footprint.

    Get kids doing the duke of edinburgh award - relying on each other - invest in local sports facilities at grass roots level (rather than throwing it all at olympic white elephants...), and teach kids good manners by example - that's what I want to see more of in communities. My fear is that with money thrown at interfaith projects, it will end up going to mega churches or similar pest-houses.


    Jul 29 08, 9:44pm (about 1 hour ago)

    Macanna, what is it you mean by religion ?

    Surely you cant be lumping all the worlds different Faith & Belief systems into one handy box called religion, your argument that all religion has managed to create is division is as absurd as the comment in the original article that all are problems are due to the lack of religion these are just gross and meaninless generalisations.

    I do believe that any system that promotes the wealfare of others, the care of our neibours, and compassion, has to be worth a look.

    Sadly as I posted earlier socialst utopias just dont work.


    Jul 29 08, 10:14pm (32 minutes ago)

    phybyn "what is it you mean by religion ?"

    It's all very well reflecting and having a sense of the spiritual...we all have that. The trouble starts when people claim to know things that they cannot know. When they claim to have access to a 'secret' knowledge, not just that there is a creator/god, but that they know what he's thinking, what he wants us to do (usually a lot of bowing and scraping and apologising for stuff we didn't do) and what he wants us to wear. Yep. Have you noticed that the major religions tell us that this 'god' is really interested in fashion?

    Bottom line : you know nothing, stop telling us you do.

    Also, the moment you add anything supernatural, you're pricing yourself out of rational argument. Supernatural means what it says...there's never been any proof for anything supernatural because, guess what, 'natural' describes our universe. If you have to call on something that cannot be evidenced by definition you know you are onto a loser. Ghosts, speaking with the dead, chi, spirit photos, gods, telekinesis, homeopathy...stop pretending. Take off the funny hat - you are not a wizard. Grow up.

    Jul 29 08, 10:21pm (24 minutes ago)

    USAcomments [hope he doesn't comment for the entire USA] said :

    "Faith should never be confused with religion"

    The word faith means :

    "Being an ignorant primitive that thinks his beliefs actually map onto reality, without evidence, without proof, without logic, just because he feels like it should. "


    SharpMango's profile picture SharpMango

    Jul 29 08, 10:29pm (16 minutes ago)

    All athiests in this thread.

    Note this: No one knows what existed before the universe. And by universe i mean all universes, be it we are an offshoot of another universe or anything.

    ALL athiests MUST believe that the universe is eternal, that the actual act of 'creation' did not occur. otherwise they need to believe that 'something' came out of the absolute void with no prompt at all.

    To believe that the universe(s) is eternal is as much a belief as to believe that something created the universe.

    I'd much rather believe in the idea of an omnipotent being that is eternal than in the idea that the universe is eternal. using my powers of reasoning, the former is infinitely more probable than the latter....

    athiests dont have a belief system? (wry smile)

    blackcatbone's profile picture blackcatbone

    Jul 29 08, 10:35pm (10 minutes ago)

    USAcomments: Humanism is not a religion. It is ethical atheism. We have but one life. Live it well with consideration.


    Jul 29 08, 10:38pm (8 minutes ago)

    ALL athiests MUST believe that the universe is eternal, that the actual act of 'creation' did not occur. otherwise they need to believe that 'something' came out of the absolute void with no prompt at all.

    No we mustn't.

    Indeed most of us believe in nothing preferring evidence to blind faith.

    The numbers at the moment point to the 'big bang' about 15 billions years ago.

    Given that time is an inherent property of he universe talking about what existed 'before' time started is meaningless.

    But hey given that the religious spend most of there time obsessing over essentially meaningless and unanswerable questions I'll leave them to their pointless speculations

    The Large Hadron Collider is being switched on this summer it may provide some more of that evidence stuff

    USAcomments's profile picture USAcomments

    Jul 29 08, 10:43pm (2 minutes ago)

    blackcatbone, look it up.

    quote - In the United States, the Supreme Court recognized that Humanism is equivalent to a religion in the limited sense of authorizing Humanists to conduct ceremonies commonly carried out by officers of religious bodies.

    In the huminism religion there is no higher power than humans, humans are literally considered to be Gods.

    Yaquina132's profile picture Yaquina132

    Jul 29 08, 10:47pm (about 1 hour ago)

    Religion is not the answer.

    It is the problem.

    Jul 29 08, 10:51pm (about 1 hour ago)


    All athiests in this thread. Note this: No one knows what existed before the universe. And by universe i mean all universes, be it we are an offshoot of another universe or anything.

    Not quite as sharp as a mango are you? We only discovered the existence of other solar systems and galaxies through science - strangely your alleged magical Sky Pixies knew nothing about them.


    ALL athiests MUST believe that the universe is eternal, that the actual act of 'creation' did not occur. otherwise they need to believe that 'something' came out of the absolute void with no prompt at all.

    Hang on one cotton-picking minute, I'm the Evil Atheist in residence on CiF and leader of the New Militant Atheists so I'll bloody well decide what the Hench-Atheists must believe. We'll go with what the science says until I say otherwise. Go read some Cosmology.


    To believe that the universe(s) is eternal is as much a belief as to believe that something created the universe.

    A logical fallacy so huge we could fly a galaxy through it and not touch the sides. The latest thinking shows that its quite possible that the Universe simply came into existence as the result of random quantum fluctuations and that it is not eternal but about 14 billion years old depending on where you measure from. Its not expected to last forever either, in about 50 billion years time there'll be a bit of radiation and maybe a few decaying black holes and that's your lot.


    I'd much rather believe in the idea of an omnipotent being that is eternal than in the idea that the universe is eternal. using my powers of reasoning, the former is infinitely more probable than the latter....

    Your powers of reasoning aren't all that great. If a Sky Pixie can be eternal then so can something else, whether its a universe or a multiverse. If a Sky Pixie can create itself then so can a multiverse or a universe. The magic Sky Pixie answers no questions and adds no value to the process, a smart person wouldn't bother to postulate it in the first place.


    athiests dont have a belief system? (wry smile)

    That's not a wry smile, only half-clever people can do those and you aren't even close to that.

    It depends what you mean by a belief-system. Mine is grounded in observation, evidence and reason. Its open to change, when the facts change then so do my opinions. All CiF Atheists are required to have the same belief system or face being thrown to the merciless Dawkins Sharks we keep in our hollowed out volcano base.

    Jul 29 08, 10:54pm (about 1 hour ago)


    Madhatter- there you go, just because you cannot answer that question through empricism does not make it invalid. its the most important question that is out there, that is the type of question that only rigourous logic can answer. The fact that you believe that the big bang was point zero actually illustrates the fact that you believe the universe IS eternal. strange though isnt it?

    The difference between the Planck Time and zero is neither here nor there. You clearly have deluded yourself that you know what all atheists much think. If you weren't an established believer then I'd suspect you were a wind-up merchant deliberately trying to make religious people look stupid.

    Not all religious people are stupid, many are very clever indeed : for example my chum ChooChoo.

    Jul 29 08, 11:44pm (18 minutes ago)

    Apart from flashing his/her ignorance, Sharpmango said something instructive :

    "I'd much rather believe in the idea of an omnipotent being that is eternal..."

    That's the'd rather. Some of us however have enough honesty, self respect to want to know what is true.

    Religion tries to sell us what we'd 'rather', but being invention, tells us that we must have 'faith'.

    It's a con. You're being fooled. Read a book.
    gailm61's profile picture gailm61

    Jul 29 08, 11:51pm (11 minutes ago)

    Absolutely agree, the decline and fall of marriage is a sign its not for all.

    Falling numbers at churches is also a good sign, people are thinking for themselves and voting with their feet. The simplistic messages sent out by religious types does them no favours these days, people are more sophisticated and less vulnerable to the bullshit hardsell that passed for spirituality in the past.

    Your DNA's in the post

    Rob Liddle and generic DNA map

    Fancy being told you have a higher-than-average chance of getting prostate cancer but are at low risk of glaucoma? Now for about £500 you can have your genetic make-up analysed. Rob Liddle swabbed his cheek and sent off for a scan.

    An e-mail pops into my basket to say the results of my genetic scan are ready. I have a few minutes free - shall I take a peep now or wait until I can devote the time to digest the results properly?

    Curiosity gets the better of me and I log on to the Decodeme website to view my password-protected "gene profile".

    This is quite exciting - could what I find out in the next few minutes alter the course of my life? I'm curious by nature, but that doesn't extend to wanting to know when the Grim Reaper is going to come a-knocking.

    Steve Jones
    It is a new form of diagnosis - before any symptoms manifest themselves - but really what everybody should do is smoke less, eat less and do more exercise
    Professor Steve Jones

    Up pops a list of grisly conditions - most of which are familiar to me, indeed some of them lurk in my family history.

    And it's the ones that have touched my life that I am drawn to first. I click on Heart Attack, bypass the warm-up "introduction" to the condition, and head straight for my own "risk summary".

    I'm told: "According to the selected literature, the relative genetic risk calculated from your genotype for males of European ancestry is 0.90.

    "This corresponds to a 44.2% lifetime risk of developing heart attack, which is 10% less than for males of European ancestry in general."

    Fated to be fat?

    So far so good, I suppose, but that's still a high risk and I'm not celebrating with a full English breakfast yet.

    I scan the list of 25 traits again and settle on Crohn's disease. Here I'm told the research indicates that I have a lifetime risk 1.42 times the average. Not so good. But for Diabetes, types 1 and 2, better news.

    Rob Liddle swabbing his cheek
    Swab, seal, send, then sweat for a few weeks

    Next I plump for Obesity - surely a banker. These genes make me look fat, right? No, a lower-than-average risk. I can't use that as an excuse for my fuller figure.

    A number of personal genomics firms, including Iceland-based Decodeme and 23andme and Navigenics, in the US, are now directly selling tests to the public that assess genetic risks of suffering from certain conditions.

    Some also provide information about your ancestral origins.

    After receiving a sample taken from the inside of your cheek, Decodeme analyses up to one million DNA markers, annotates them and puts them in the context of disease risk, providing you with a personal profile.

    'Do more exercise'

    One reason the tests have proved controversial is that they can measure only the genes that studies have linked to certain conditions - not the many that have yet to be discovered.

    Decodeme says it is continually adding the results of new research to its database, improving the accuracy of the existing risk summaries and extending the list of traits for which you can assess yourself.

    But there are other risk factors that could easily override these genetic indications, such as family history and lifestyle. My genetic risk of getting type 2 diabetes is rated as below average, but being overweight probably counts for more.

    Steve Jones, author and professor of genetics at University College, London, believes that, in most cases, individual genes cannot say much about a person's risk. For him, potential customers would be better off following the advice of the health lobby.

    See how the deCODEme site gives its users a genetic snapshot

    "It is a new form of diagnosis - before any symptoms manifest themselves - but really what everybody should do is smoke less, eat less and do more exercise," he says.

    The Decodeme website has a section on risk factors and prevention for each of the conditions featured, which I later peruse.

    From this I learn that the prevalence for Crohn's is highest during the second and third decades of life - but that it can crop up in the over-70s. I'm 42, so may have dodged that bullet.

    And if I still have questions, I can message Decodeme's team, who may then refer me to a genetic counsellor.

    But for some critics, discovering your risk of developing a serious condition from a web page rather than a doctor presents a serious problem - even if the scans are unlikely to throw up any catastrophic results.

    The authorities in some states in the US have recently warned testing companies that they should not continue to solicit business from residents unless the process is being sanctioned by a licensed physician.

    'Reduced autonomy'

    Daniel Sokol, a lecturer in medical ethics at the University of London, says the absence of the direct doctor-patient relationship does create a problem.

    "The results could allow people to make changes for the better to their lifestyle," says Dr Sokol.

    "However, if they misinterpret them - the scans could do more harm than good and could actually reduce people's autonomy if they interpret the results incorrectly or exaggerate their implications."

    But Kari Stefansson, chief executive of Decodeme, says it should be a matter of personal choice how people treat their own data.

    "The people who feel that they want to go over the results with a doctor should go to a doctor," he says.

    "When I got mine, I went into the office and closed the door. I wanted to be alone.

    Alcohol flush reaction - no
    Nicotine dependence - normal
    Baldness - likely before age 40
    Can taste bitter flavours - yes

    "It should be your decision - we are not ramming it down anyone's throat. How you use it depends on who you are, but you are entitled to make the choice of getting the information or not getting it.

    "But you can get so much out of it - it could be extremely beneficial to know that you are at a higher risk."

    Dr Stefansson admits that the cost of the test at $985 probably puts it out of reach for most people, but he predicts a future in which accessing such personal genetic information will be commonplace - with the tests possibly costing a 10th of what they do now in five years' time.

    We go through my results together. I appear to have a slightly increased chance of suffering macular degeneration (an eye problem), coeliac disease and Crohn's, but there is nothing in my risk summary that indicates that I need to take further medical advice immediately.

    "I'm afraid to tell you that you are just an average guy," jokes Dr Stefansson.

    Perhaps this news is the hardest of all to take.

    Biology Enters 'The Matrix' Through New Computer Language

    ScienceDaily (July 25, 2008) — Ever since the human genome was sequenced less than 10 years ago, researchers have been able to access a dizzying plethora of genomic information with a simple click of a mouse. This digitizing of genomic data--and its public access--is something that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier.

    But as molecules go, DNA is pretty straight forward. With its simple composition and linear structure, it easily lends itself to mathematical models. Not so with proteins. In fact, proteins are an order of magnitude more complex than DNA. It is proteins, not DNA, that carry out the cell's heavy lifting. However, with their intricately folded three-dimensional shapes determining a seemingly endless range of possible functions and their manifold interactions with other proteins and with DNA,

    the leg-work required to mathematically capture the protein universe seems absurd.

    And it is.

    That is why a team of Harvard Medical School researchers have decided to attack this issue from an entirely new angle. Rather than build a mountain range of proteomic data one grain of dirt at a time, they have developed a computer program that can take on the responsibility of assembling such a gargantuan model.

    Enter Little b, a computational language that can penetrate the "mind" of a cell.

    "Through incorporating principles of engineering, we've developed a language that can describe biology in the same way a biologist would," says Jeremy Gunawardena, director of the Virtual Cell Program in Harvard Medical School's department of systems biology. "The potential here is enormous. This opens the door to actually performing discovery science, to look at things like drug interactions, right on the computer."

    Most current computational methods of modeling biological systems are not unlike writing a document with pen and paper. Each new project starts from scratch; there are no facilities for cutting and pasting, for linking to other texts, for including images, etc.--things that come so "naturally" to electronic documents.

    Harvard Medical School researcher Jeremy Gunawardena, a mathematician by training, teamed up with Aneil Mallavarapu, a cell biologist and computer scientist, to lead a project that would bypass these limitations.

    "We knew that the secret to doing this would be to assimilate fundamental concepts of engineering, concepts like modularity and abstraction, into the biological realm," says Mallavarapu, who was recently awarded the Merrimack prize by the Council for Systems Biology in Boston for developing this program.

    Modularity involves breaking a problem down into separate modules and constructing each module so that it can interact with the others. Abstraction refers to extracting generic biological properties and incorporating them into the modules, so that they can use this abstract information in concrete contexts. Put another way, abstraction means that, unlike the old days of pen and paper, each new model does *not* need to be built from scratch. Models can be built upon each other and their individual modules refined and re-used.

    To do this, Mallavarapu used the programming language LISP, a language widely used in artificial intelligence research. LISP is famous among computer scientists due to its ability to write code that, in turn, can write code, enabling a programmer to derive new mini-languages.

    "LISP isn't like typical programs, it's more like a conversation," says Gunawardena. "When we input data into Little b, Little b responds to it and reasons over the data."

    For example, Gunawardena's lab works on kinases, a kind of protein that transfers phosphate chemicals to other proteins in order to regulate their activity. While this property is common to all kinases, there is a great deal of variety in how particular kinases carry this out. Little b, however, understands this basic property of kinases, this abstraction.

    Here, the researchers demonstrated how they were able to interact with Little b to build complex models of kinase activity, using Little b as a kind of scientific collaborator, and not simply a passive tool.

    On a larger scale, the researchers also used the program to query the development of fruit fly embryos. As a result, they discovered levels of complexity in these embryonic structures that previous research had missed.

    "This language is stepping into an unknown universe, when your computer starts building things for you," says Gunawardena. "Your whole relationship with the computer becomes a different one. You've ceded some control to the machine. The machine is drawing inferences on your behalf and constructing things for you."

    The researchers sometimes admit, half-joking, that Little b sometimes feels a little bit like "The Matrix"--referring, of course, to the film trilogy in which human beings lived in a computer-generated virtual world.

    Mallavarapu and Gunawardena have a pretty clear vision for this project: they want every biologist in the world to use it.

    But in order to bring the program out from the early adopter community, where it is currently being used by colleagues in the Harvard community, it needs to be more accessible.

    "The next step is to create an interface that's easy to use," says Gunarwardena. "Think of web page development. Lots of people are creating web pages with little or no knowledge of HTML. They use simple interfaces like Dreamweaver. Once we've developed the equivalent, scientists will be able to use our system without having to learn Little b."

    And the more people use it, the smarter it gets. As researchers around the world input their discoveries into Little b, the program will assimilate that information into its language.

    The ultimate goal is to have an in silico, virtual cell--a dynamic biological system living in software.

    "Sure, it's a long way off," says Gunawardena, "but we're getting there."

    This research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Harvard Medical School. The funding and data sources for this study had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; and in the writing of the report.

    Journal reference:

    1. Aneil Mallavarapu, Matthew Thomson, Benjamin Ullian, and Jeremy Gunawardena. Programming with models: modularity and abstraction provide powerful capabilities for systems biology. Journal of the Royal Society Interface, online publication, July 23, 2008
    Adapted from materials provided by Harvard Medical School.

    Source: Harvard Medical School. "Biology Enters 'The Matrix' Through New Computer Language." ScienceDaily 25 July 2008. 29 July 2008 .

    QIs’ Stephen Fry Puts Religion In Its Place

    This untransmitted extract available on the DVD shows an insightful and intelligent Stephen Fry explaining his views on religion to his co-star Alan Davies who is himself quite vocal on the subject of religious zealotry. A fascinating insight, removed from broadcast, presumably for its content; which just goes to show you can criticise anything, as long as it doesn’t trample on society’s most irrational, idiotic and self-deluded beliefs.


    iR2P - Individual responsibility to protect

    source: British Humanist Association e-bulletin 28th July 2008

    Individual responsibility to protect
    Members and supporters might want to take the Individual Responsibility to Protect pledge. This invites you to affirm not just your revulsion at mass killing, but also your determination to use your own power, whatever your status or interests, to do something about it.
    According to the website you would join a global network of 'pragmatic idealists': individuals who acknowledge the complexity and ambition of the task, but have avowed to use whatever influence is at their disposal to help save lives wherever and whenever communities are at risk of mass atrocities.
    If there are credible warnings of an increasing risk of mass atrocities taking place, you will be alerted via a mailing list to take action to help put pressure on the perpetrators, to challenge bystanders, to help raise awareness, and to show your concern.
    In the meantime, you will be encouraged to explore opportunities to contribute to longer term prevention and to enhance the iR2P network by contributing your ideas and inspiring others to join. If you would like to take the pledge and sign up to the mailing list, visit

    A third of Muslim students back killings

    by Times Online

    Reposted from:

    Radicalism and support for sharia is strong in British universities

    ALMOST a third of British Muslim students believe killing in the name of Islam can be justified, according to a poll.

    The study also found that two in five Muslims at university support the incorporation of Islamic sharia codes into British law.

    The YouGov poll for the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) will raise concerns about the extent of campus radicalism. "Significant numbers appear to hold beliefs which contravene democratic values," said Han-nah Stuart, one of the report's authors. "These results are deeply embarrassing for those who have said there is no extremism in British universities."

    The report was criticised by the country's largest Muslim student body, Fosis, but Anthony Glees, professor of security and intelligence studies at Buckingham University, said: "The finding that a large number of students think it is okay to kill in the name of religion is alarming.

    "There is a wide cultural divide between Muslim and nonMuslim students. The solution is to stop talking about celebrating diversity and focus on integration and assimilation."

    The researchers found that 55% of nonMuslim students thought Islam was incompatible with democracy. Nearly one in 10 had "little respect" for Muslims.

    In addition to its poll of 1,400 Muslim and nonMuslim students, the centre visited more than 20 universities to interview students and listen to guest speakers. It found that
    extremist preachers regularly gave speeches that were inflammatory, homophobic or bordering on antisemitic.

    The researchers highlighted Queen Mary college, part of London University, as a campus where radical views were widely held. Last December, a speaker named Abu Mujahid encouraged Muslim students to condemn gays because "Allah hates" homosexuality. In November, Azzam Tamimi, a British-based supporter of Hamas, described Israel as the most "inhumane project in the modern history of humanity".

    James Brandon, deputy director at CSC , said: "Our researchers found a ghettoised mentality among Muslim students at Queen Mary. Also, we found the segregation between Muslim men and women at events more visible at Queen Mary."

    A spokesman for Queen Mary said the university was aware the preachers had visited but did not know the contents of their speeches. "Clearly, we in no way associate ourselves with these views. However, also integral to the spirit of university life is free speech and debate and on occasion speakers will make statements that are deemed offensive."

    In the report, 40% of Muslim students said it was unacceptable for Muslim men and women to associate freely. Homophobia was rife, with 25% saying they had little or no respect for gays. The figure was higher (32%) for male Muslim students. Among nonMuslims, the figure was only 4%.

    The research found that a third of Muslim students supported the creation of a world-wide caliphate or Islamic state.

    A number of terrorists have been radicalised at British universities. Kafeel Ahmed, who drove a flaming jeep into a building at Glasgow airport last year and died of his burns, is believed to have been radicalised while studying at Anglia Ruskin university, Cambridge.

    Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, condemned the study. "This disgusting report is a reflection of the biases and prejudices of a right-wing think tank – not the views of Muslim students across Britain," he said. "Only 632 Muslim students were asked vague and misleading questions, and their answers were wilfully misinterpreted."

    Some of the findings amplify previous research.
    A report by Policy Exchange last year found that 37% of all Muslims aged 16-24 would prefer to live under a sharia system.

    Baroness Warwick, chief executive of Universities UK, said: "Violence, or the incitement to violence, has no place on a university campus."