Monday, August 31, 2009

Darwin Song Project


Darwin Song Project (website)

by Robin Denselow -

Thanks to Aurelian for the link.

This is an intriguing, impressive album that results from a brave and unlikely collaboration. Back in March, eight singer-songwriters from the UK and the US came together to compose new songs that had a "resonance and relevance" to Charles Darwin, who was born in Shrewsbury 200 years ago. They had just a week to write and rehearse for a concert in Shrewsbury, where this album was recorded. There are 17 new songs here, covering Darwin's life and the confusion and anger that his theory of evolution first caused - and continues to cause - for anyone from his loyal but worried wife to present-day creationists.
Continue reading

Listen to samples and buy below. UK release 31-Aug, US release 08-Sep

Link to Amazon UK

Link to Amazon US

Lots of other YouTube video's out there at this url or by searching You Tube for "The Darwin Project" comments


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The Atheist & The Bishop, part 2

source: via,4237,n,n

iPlayer audio available to 6 September.

2/3. Professor AC Grayling and Lord Harries of Pentregarth explore where we get our values from

Series in which an atheist and a bishop come together to apply their own philosophies to the experiences of people they meet, with Jane Little chairing the discussion highlights comments: visit Bacons College, London & Camp Quest, Somerset. At the faith school, AC Grayling wonders if having a faith orientation adds anything and whether it effects intellectual enquiry.

AC Grayling: (5'40" to 6' 4") Faith comes down in the end to saying 'blessed are the those who believe but havn't seen, that is to say, don't have evidence or who havn't got a reason for believing; how is this consistent with one of the great aims of education which is to equip students with an ability to evaluate information, to think critically, to assess evidence and to think for themselves.

Parental Indoctrination
AC Grayling (16'20' -16'28") to a muslim student "would you be a muslim if you had been born to two very devout Roman Catholic parents?" Muslim Student: "I doubt it, I'd probably be Roman Catholic".

Logical Fallacies
Samantha Stein (24'30') talks about introducing children to logical fallacies (informal fallacy) and Straw Man arguements.

Extraordinary Claims require Extraordinary Evidence (Carl Sagan)
AC Grayling (25' 26") to Samantha Stein: " how will you encourage children to have a clear idea of what they think and a clear idea of what viewpoints don't deserve respect if they don't?"
SS: she will ask children to invoke Carl Sagan phrase 'extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence'. Anything they are faced with, be it scientology, religion, homeopathy - anything that requires that if someone is making claims for which you need to believe in something, you cannot see or cannot be empircally tested, then, they need to consider Carl Sagans' phrase.

AC Grayling (28') asks 'Suppose a martian came down to earth, was presented with two docuements, the New Testament and The Koran, how would the martian choose between those two documents to find which was true and which was not true?" A Muslim Physics teacher responds.

AC Grayling: (36' 40") is asked 'where do humanistic values come from? we are social animals capable of empathy... basis of our thinking about morality and organisation of society... he talks about Aristotle & happiness and evolutionary psychology... many talents for being good.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Distance lends disenchantment

source: highlights comments: Also check out the interesting (200) comments on the Guardian.

Religious belief is credible only from the inside, and once we've seen its absurdities from the outside, it's hard to crawl back in

The question: How did you find your faith, or lose it?

"I think I've reached some very interesting conclusions," announced Bishop O'Neill, after a discussion about religion with a fellow cleric. "It's nonsense isn't it? Think about it: very little evidence. Blind faith, that's all we have to go on. There's not a shred of proof anywhere, nothing."

Real life, however, is not like an episode of Father Ted, where the rapidly defrocking bishop added, "Aliens? Now there's something that might just be possible." The comedy depends on the fact that such sudden and clear road-from-Damascus moments just don't happen. Yet those who lose their faith make the same journey as Bishop O'Neill, only more slowly. They do come to see as absurd beliefs which once seemed clearly true, or deeply mysterious.

That was certainly true for me. As a teenager, I increasingly had questions about religion to which I found no good answers. For example, I was baffled by the role of intercessory prayer in church services. Surely, if God were good, and it was good to help someone recover from illness, he wouldn't wait until someone asked him to do so. Yet no one gave me a decent answer to even this simple question. One intellectually complacent preacher simply said that since in the Gospels Jesus told us to pray, we should just do so. In fact, the Lord's Prayer, the only prayer Jesus commended, contains not a single plea to intervene to help others, so the preacher's reply failed even on its own terms.

Questions like these tend to be dismissed as simplistic, but that kind of response is no answer at all. It's like when people roll their eyes when you raise the problem of evil: how can a good God allow so much suffering in the world? Yes, the problem is old, but it's not the challenge that's tired: it's the person who has given up trying to give it a decent answer.

So bit by bit, my faith waned. I'm sure I'm not unusual in this. It tends to happen gradually because certain core beliefs seem so strong and certain that even if one supporting strut looks feeble, you survey the entire edifice and conclude that either that strut isn't required to hold it up, or the strut must be stronger than it looks. It takes time to see that, in fact, the whole thing is being held up by threads.

However, there was one moment which confirmed my loss of faith. I was at the Methodist Association of Youth Clubs' London Weekend, and I had been vomiting since we had got off the bus. That meant I got to take part in the Sunday worship at the Royal Albert Hall from the balcony, not feeling too great. Instead of being caught up in the emotion, I was observing at a distance. That confirmed the perceptual shift from believer to non-believer was now complete. For what from the inside had looked like the holy spirit at work, looked from where I now stood like a humanly-constructed exercise in mass hysteria.

And that, in a nutshell, is I think what makes deconversion more robust than conversion. To simplify a little, the convert adopts a religious faith because he or she comes to inhabit it from the inside. The infidel rejects it because she or he comes to see it from the outside. And the further you zoom back from religion and see the big picture, the more absurd it seems.

For instance, one of the objections to Christianity that moved Bishop O'Neill to change his mind was, "And what about when you weren't allowed to eat meat on Fridays? How comes that's alright now but it wasn't back then. I mean, the people who ate meat on Fridays back then, do they all go to hell, or what? It's mad!" For true believers, this is baby-level theology, and Father Dougal McGuire is indeed a simpleton. But that's the joke: orthodox religion really is so loopy that even an idiot can see it is, that is, unless they are so wrapped up in it that they cannot see it objectively. That's why so many intelligent defenders of faith actually agree with Dougal, rejecting "literal" belief, or claiming that religion is really about practice and not dogma. Good luck to them, but they should at least admit that those among the faithful who disagree – which is most of them – believe nonsense.

Believers are right when they say that to understand a religion properly you need to get under its skin. But to understand it fully you cannot stay there: you have to take a more objective view too. When you do, I think it's only a matter of time before you see that the simplicity of Dougal's doubts is precisely what makes them so devastating.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

On Spirituality … Albert Einstein

source: highlights comments

Spirituality has been high jacked by the religious. Spirituality implies belief in the Supernatural. As a Naturalistic person I prefer using the word ‘holistic’ not 'spirituality'.

On Spirituality … Albert Einstein

Extract from a letter in the British Humanist Association member’s forum


As the Dalai Lama has said: ‘The world could live without religion but not without spirituality’.


As an example of what spirituality means for me I will quote Einstein:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Albert Einstein

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

HASSNERS 8 Statements (September 2009)

Humanist - try to live a good life without religious or supernatural beliefs. More

Atheist - De facto Atheist antitheists who affirm, in all probability, that god(s) do not exist. More

Scientific - Science & the scientific method is the best way (eg evolution v creationism) to understand the world. More

Secularist - challenge religious privilege & discrimination. More

Naturalistic - the natural world (the Universe) is all that exists; nothing supernatural or mystical. All events may be explained by natural causes. More

Evolutionary - thought and biology evolve over time. More

Rationalist - truth can be discovered by reason. More

Sceptics - disposed to incredulity & doubt hence suspend final judgment More


HASSNERS Poll (Feb-August 2009) Results.

Evolutionary replaces Ethical in the 'E' of HASSNERS

To celebrate, during 2009, Charles Darwins' 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species, HASSNERS will change the 'E' in HASSNERS from 'Ethics' to 'Evolutionary'.
'Ethics' is already implied in 'H' for 'Humanism'.
Evolutionary - thought and biology evolve over time.
Thought is Evolutionary. Thought evolves over time. Evolutionary Psychology views human nature as a universal set of evolved psychological adaptations to recurring problems in the ancestral environment.
Biology is Evolutionary. Evolutionary biologists document the fact that evolution occurs over time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

29 of the Council for Secular Humanism’s important accomplishments in the last 29 years

source: highlights comments
Paul Kurtz et al achievements at Council for Secular Humanism.

  1. The Council for Secular Humanism was founded in 1980 by Paul Kurtz. Secular humanism rejects supernatural accounts of reality and embraces the fullness of human life by creating a positive alternative framework.
  2. The Council issued “A Secular Humanist Declaration” in 1980, with fifty-eight prominent endorsers, such as Sidney Hook, A. J. Ayer, Francis Crick, Albert Ellis, and B.F. Skinner. The Declaration garnered front-page headlines worldwide.
  3. Publication of Free Inquiry magazine began with the Winter 1980—81 issue. Tom Flynn is the current editor. Free Inquiry continues to be a provocative, intellectually stimulating journal. It is the authoritative voice of secular humanism in the United States.
  4. The Council founded the International Academy of Humanism, which has included many of the leading scholars, intellectuals, and writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
  5. The Council launched the First Amendment Task Force, a network of volunteer attorneys concerned with protecting church-state separation and fundamental human rights. The FATF has participated in dozens of legal battles.
  6. The Council successfully sued to end tax-funded publication of an annual prayer anthology compiled by the chaplain of the U.S. Senate.
  7. The Council for Secular Humanism held the first conference spotlighting the displacement of moderates by fundamentalist conservatives in U.S. Baptist colleges and seminaries.
  8. Secular humanism was declared public enemy number 1 by Religious Right leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
  9. The Council held the famous 1985 conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan that fostered renewed scholarly interest in the problems of a “historical Jesus.” The Council launched the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion.
  10. In the mid-1980s, The Council helped defeat efforts to have secular humanism classified as a “religion” by the federal courts. Paul Kurtz provided expert testimony, and current CFI President & CEO Ronald A. Lindsay filed a critical brief.
  11. The Council held the first Mormon-Humanist Dialogue, linking secular humanists with dissident academics the Mormon church had threatened with excommunication. (Other important dialogues sponsored by the Council have included meetings with Vatican representatives and leaders of the Baptist church.)
  12. The Council formed the James Madison Memorial Committee that catalyzed the preservation of Montpelier, historic home of James Madison, and bestows the James Madison Award to recognize outstanding church-state activism.
  13. The Council saved the birthplace of agnostic orator Robert Green Ingersoll from demolition and accomplished its rehabilitation of the Ingersoll birthplace at a cost of more than $250,000.
  14. Under the leadership of Norm Allen, The Council launched African Americans for Humanism, the first permanent humanist outreach to the non-religious black community.
  15. The Council launched the Campus Freethought Alliance, forerunner to today’s CFI on Campus, providing outreach to students at 200 college campuses. Derek Araujo and D.J. Grothe, both of whom now work with CFI, were among the initial leaders.
  16. The Council exposed the faith-healing tricks of televangelist Peter Popoff (inspiration for the 1992 Steve Martin film Leap of Faith).
  17. The Council recruited more than twenty national humanist organizations from Europe, Africa, and Asia into the international humanist movement.
  18. In 1984, the Council held a ground-breaking conference challenging the apocalyptic tradition in Christianity -- which then-president Ronald Reagan suggested had shaped his views on nuclear policy.
  19. The Council issued “Humanist Manifesto 2000,” successor to the original Humanist Manifesto (1933) and Humanist Manifesto II (1973).
  20. The Council raised tens of thousands of dollars for victims of “acts of god” through SHARE (Secular Humanist Aid and Relief Effort).
  21. The Council for Secular Humanism filed a lawsuit to end Florida’s faith-based initiative, which clearly seems to violate language in the state constitution forbidding any financial aid to religious organizations (in progress).
  22. The Council established the Freethought Trail, an informal network of abolitionist, feminist, anarchist, freethought, and other radical reform sites within eighty miles of the Ingersoll birthplace (see
  23. With Jim Christopher, the Council established SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves) the first self-help recovery group offering an alternative to religious “twelve step” recovery programs, now active worldwide.
  24. The Council launched Secular Humanist Bulletin, a lively newsletter for associate members of the Council now in its twenty-fourth year of publication. Andrea Szalanski is editor of SHB.
  25. The Council produced more than 300 episodes of The Humanist Perspective, a half-hour public affairs TV show aired on more than thirty cable systems around the country.
  26. The Council provides speakers and debaters for humanist groups and campus groups nationwide.
  27. The Council for Secular Humanism pioneered summer adult education programs for humanists: our “summer sessions” starting in the late 1980s grew into the Center for Inquiry Institute.
  28. Free Inquiry became the first major U.S. publication to reprint the notorious Danish cartoons satirizing some of the extremist interpretations of Islam; Borders Books refused to carry the issue. Several Canadian bookstore chains refused to carry the following issue, which didn’t make much sense to us either.
  29. Council spokespersons continue to be consulted by the media for their views on cartoons, crosses, crèches, cranks, censorship, churches ... and dozens of other topics not beginning with the letter “c.”

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Julian Baggini interviews John Gray & AC Grayling


Discusses (1-8 minutes) the continuum of the Sunday morning church goer to Islamic Fundamentalist willing to blow people up. I've always been sceptical of this arguement. Here Julian Baggini argues the point with AC Grayling.

Very Brief Notes (listening to the podcast is a better idea!)

Before 9/11, which was a watershed, religion was 'off the subject'. Since then people have become 'pissed off' with religion imposing beliefs. Religion is not making a come back - its the noise that has increased. Unearned respect for religion. Christianity is the idea of goat heards told thousands of years. Hercules and other silly stories. Wake up! Sam Harris said moderate gentle sunday Christian is on a continuum with the Islamic Terroist. Democratic Socialist and Stalinist continuum. If you literally become a Christian. Moderate Christian not sure what they believe. Exploring spiritually, moderate christians are hypocrites. Harsh but not certainties. Jeans wearing vicars.

John Gray - Faith in Progress. Is cumulative. Scientific knowledge is fixed. Faith in Reason. Hubris of reason.
AC Grayling - would rather live today in UK rather than other episodes in history. Material progress is breathtaking eg dentistry etc. Progress is reversible. highlights comments

Julian Baggini's Philosophy Monthly

Episode 4: July 2009

icon for podpress bpm July 2009 [29:59m]: Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
Julian Baggini - Baggini's Philosophy Monthly - Baggini's Philosophy Monthly
In the latest edition of Baggini’s Philosophy Monthly, I’m talking to two philosophical antagonists, AC Grayling and John Gray, discussing belief in progress and the power of reason.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Dara O'Briain on Religion

source: highlights comments

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Marcus Brigstocke on Religion


Anne Widecombe comes in for a LOT of stick!! highlights comments

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From That Mitchell And Webb Look - Homeopathy

source: highlights comments

Hot Romanian Atheist talks about Evolution

source: via PZ who Spotted this ages ago

She's a great spokeperson! Fun video! highlights comments

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Athiest summer camp: 'There are some very interesting points of view'

source: via highlights comments

Steven Morris joins free-thinking youngsters on holiday at Camp Quest to talk about philosophy and an article.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

By their works shall ye know them

People of faith have rejected the benefits of an open mind and, perhaps through choice, are destined to repeat their bloody pasts

If one were asked to prescribe the fundamental condition for a good world, it would be: peace and freedom for all, where "freedom" means personal autonomy and mental liberation from prejudice, superstition, ignorance and fear. Cynics will no doubt think this a saccharine sentiment merely, if only on the grounds that it is unattainable and that one had better stick to the realities of a world in which the majority of people are trapped in economic and intellectual prisons made by history, perpetuated and promoted by demagogues and the greedy and powerful.

The cynics are of course right about the realities, but that does not mean one should shrug one's shoulders and capitulate. There is something one can do to fight back, by taking part in the battle that underlies it all: the battle (to put it in Voltaire's terms) between those who seek the truth and those who claim to have it.

On one side are those who inquire, examine, experiment, research, propose ideas and subject them to scrutiny, change their minds when shown to be wrong and live with uncertainty while placing reliance on the collective, self-critical, responsible and rigorous use of reason and observation to further the quest for knowledge.

On the other side are those who espouse a belief system or ideology which pre-packages all the answers, who have faith in it, who trust the authorities, priests and prophets, and who either think that the hows and whys of the universe are explained to satisfaction by their faith, or smugly embrace ignorance. Note that although the historical majority of these latter are the epigones of one or another religion, they also include the followers of such ideologies as Marxism and Stalinism – which are also all-embracing monolithic ownerships of the Great Truth to which everyone must sign up on pain of punishment, and on whose behalf their zealots are prepared to kill and die.

If anyone does not know how to pluck from history and the contemporary world examples of these opposing mindsets and their operation then he is either deaf, dumb, blind and illiterate – or he is one of the creatures of faith.

In the aftermath of the Reformation in the 16th century, Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order as an army of defence against the attack on the One True Church. The Jesuits saw that the reformers had learning and intelligence on their side; they were translating the Bible into vernacular tongues, and encouraging lay people to read it, and when laymen did so they could see that the doctrines and practices of the Roman church were a mountain of rubbish. The Jesuits aimed to be an army of very smart casuists and propagandists, skilful in rhetoric and argument, trained to counter the reformers' charges, not interested in truth but in Catholicism's tendentious version of it.

It is said that the ignorant are condemned to repeat history, but it is equally true that those who know history can repeat it on purpose. In the US the proponents of intelligent design and creationism have taken a large leaf out of Loyola's book of strategy, and are training a new breed of jesuitical defenders of faith against the onslaught of science. Only look at the exam set by creationist William Dembski for his Intelligent Design and Christian Apologetics course at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The Final exam questions are as follows (and can be seenhere):

1. You are a panelist at the premier showing of Richard Dawkins's BBC production debunking religion titled "The Root of All Evil?" Richard Dawkins is there on the podium with you. After the showing of this program, you are asked to present a brief response. Throughout the program, Dawkins emphasises that evolutionary theory is confirmed by overwhelming evidence whereas religious belief is as a matter of blind, unthinking faith. Challenge him in your response on both points: spend half of your response showing that evolution is not nearly as overwhelmingly confirmed as Dawkins makes out; also, indicate how, at least when it comes to the Christian faith, religious belief can be well-supported evidentially (eg indicate lines of evidence supporting the resurrection and the reliability of the Scriptures).

2. You are an expert witness in the Dover case. You've been asked to summarise why you think intelligent design is a fully scientific theory. Do so here. Sketch out ID's method of design detection and then show how it applies (or could apply) to biological systems. Further, indicate how ID is testable: what evidence would confirm ID and what evidence would disconfirm ID?

3. Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross have characterised intelligent design as part of a vast rightwing conspiracy to undermine our democratic institutions by substituting religious dogma for scientific theory. Accordingly, they see intelligent design as part of a "Wedge Strategy". Briefly recount the history of the "Wedge" and indicate why Forrest and Gross may be wrong to paint it in conspiratorial terms. Is the "Wedge" a legitimate cultural movement? Explain.

4. You've been assigned to teach six Sunday school lessons on intelligent design over six consecutive Sundays. Each lesson is an hour and fifteen minutes. Outline how you would conduct these lessons. What would you have people read? In what order? What would you present? What would you want participants to take away at the end of the six weeks?

As this shows, the training at the seminary is aimed at producing infantry for a religious war against science and reason; proof of this, and in Dembski's own words, lies in another of his exam questions for the same course:

You are the Templeton Foundation's new program director and are charged with overseeing its programs and directing its funds. Sketch out a 20-year plan for defeating scientific materialism and the evolutionary worldview it has fostered if you had $50,000,000 per year in current value to do so. What sorts of programs would you institute? How would you spend the money?

Apart from the interesting aside on the Templeton Foundation, which exists to keep religion confused with and implicated in science, this makes as clear as day the tendentious purpose of an "education" at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

When the faithful of any faith win the doors are open to horrors ranging from Muslims killing Christians in Gojra, women being whipped for wearing trousers in Sudan, Sunnis blowing up dozens of Shias in Iraq, oppressive theocracies, reactionary social policies, prejudice against gays and women, pogroms against Jews, slaughter of kulaks, starvation of millions as a result of ideological nostrums such as collectivisation, wars, communities separated by walls in Israel-Palestine and Ulster – the litany seems endless.

Someone once said "by their works ye shall know them". Indeed. Do not venture the fig-leaf of charitable works – the non-zealous do these too, and for better motives. The true contrast is with antibiotics, surgery, television, lighting and heating, air travel – the litany is equally endless. And again, by their fruits we know them. Do not venture the canard that science produces atom bombs and mustard gas, as if mentioning them justified the atrocities committed by faith on the bodies and minds of multitudes, for these applications of science are the result of political and ideological decisions about how the findings of science are to be used. Scientists do not start wars with each other over different theories of nitrogen fixation or whether black holes or boson stars lie at the heart of galaxies. Theologians, however, have committed many murders over the word "and" in the formula "the father and the son": if you want a lesson in lunacy, go and find out why; it makes all my points for me.

To summarise: the battle for peace and freedom is a battle about mindsets. The battle lines are clear. It is fought on many fronts: against faith-based schooling, against the overweening privilege accorded religious lobbies in society, and in the agora of public opinion. It would be easy to take the next step of showing that the mindset which looks for and tests the facts rather than shores up ancient edifices of authority is likely to make the world a fairer one economically and in power relations too. But that discussion is for another time.


The Atheist & The Bishop

source: highlights comments

Series in which an atheist and a bishop come together to apply their own philosophies to the experiences of people they meet, with Jane Little chairing the discussion.
Public debates between those who believe in God and those who resolutely do not appear more polarised than ever, often obscuring central human questions about how we should live and how modern ethics should work.
In this programme, atheist philosopher Dr Miranda Fricker and Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, tackle suffering and death.


  1. Wed 19 Aug 2009
  2. Sat 22 Aug 2009

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