Friday, October 30, 2009

Spirituality ... for some HASSNERS the synonym is 'humane' or 'free spirit' or 'holistic'.


I talked before about my dislike of certain words that have a religious context. The word 'Spirituality' is one of my pet hates!

From the BHA private forum.

One the BHA forum a contributor Oliver R said in May 2009:

RE: Atheists are not fully human

I am in two minds about this one, as I find the word 'Spiritual' quite meaningful still since I became atheist and Humanist, but you don't seem to acknowledge at all that there is a potential problem with the word in that it has traditionally been associated with the literal idea of a literal spirit/soul. I agree that it has become somewhat broader, but the possibility for confusion is still there, and I would say for most people is linked to supernatural beliefs - as when people say "I am not religious , but I am spiritual" - they usually mean they do not follow a particular dogma but think there is some sort of God and soul etc. or as when Ofsted inspectors are asked to check that schools are encouraging children's "spiritual development". It is a rather vague term, which I have heard often leaves  teachers unsure of exactly what is required and whether it is to do with religion or not.

I was just looking in my Chambers dictionary, and for "spirit" it suggests a plethora of meanings, some of which would work well for us, others definitely not:

vital principle, the principle of thought, enthusiasm, animation, verve, courage, mettle, real meaning, essence, a breath, vivacity,  the soul, a disembodied soul, a ghost, and incorporeal being, a subtle substance in the body,

for spiritual:
 relating to spirit/the mind/the higher faculties/ highly refined in thought and feeling/ habitually or naturally looking to things of he spirit/
 relating to spirits/the soul/incorporeal/eccelsiastical/ religious

 I was thinking that maybe one alternative is humane -- "havings the feelings proper to man, kind, tender, merciful, humanising" highlights comments

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Alpha Course - Does God Exist? 96% say No!


Results at 30 October 2009 highlights comments


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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Scientific Method etc

source: highlights comments

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BHA welcomes support for Humanism from cabinet minister

source: highlights comments

BHA welcomes support for Humanism from cabinet minister

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed support for Humanism from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (CLG) Rt Hon John Denham MP. Speaking tonight at a meeting of the Churches’ Inter-Religious Network at Methodist Church House, Mr Denham described himself as a humanist and spoke of the need to acknowledge shared values.

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, said, ‘It’s a good thing when people in the public eye identify themselves as humanists and make it clear that this is the source of their own positive values – that they are good without god. There is still a widespread erroneous assumption that to be moral and have values, you must be religious. We may disagree with much of what Mr Denham says in terms of the exaggerated importance he gives to religion as a motivating factor in society, but it is very welcome that he should make it clear that morality is non-religious for many people in Britain today.’

Mr Copson continued, ‘It is also important that Mr Denham immediately quashed any suggestion of there being a government or state “conspiracy” seeking to marginalise religion or religious believers, while making clear that it is not the role of Government to fund religion. We share his vision of a country where people are neither privileged nor discriminated against because of their religion or because they are humanists – that is the secular approach to society where all would have full enjoyment of the benefits of human rights, democracy, and equality before the law. As CLG minister, Mr Denham is responsible for engaging with both religious and non-religious groups, and we look forward to engaging with him on these issues.’


For further comment or information, contact Andrew Copson on 07534 248596 or 020 7079 3584.

The BHA has distinguished supporters from all three major parties – from Liberal Democrat Evan Harris MP to Conservative peer and former MP Tristan Garel-Jones, to Labour peer and former leader Neil Kinnock, and the All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group has over 110 members from all three parties in the Commons and Lords. For more details, see

The British Humanist Association represents and supports the non-religious. It is the largest organisation in the UK campaigning for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular state.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What is 'Philosophy for Children' (P4C)?

source: Dorset SACRE Sept 2009 Cdrom "Ready to go further": Philosophy4Children Key Note Speech Dorset RE.ppt highlights comments

Powerpoint presentation 'Philosophy for Children' (P4C) seems to take a Humanist approach.

What is 'Philosophy for Children' (P4C) / 'Enquiry and Dialogue in the Classroom'?

John Palliser draws on his extensive teaching and consultancy experience to provide and develop models of how P4C can best enhance the curriculum at your school. Schools that John has worked with use P4C to:
  • Enhance quality of dialogue, questioning, reasoning and engagement in lessons across the curriculum etc
What is Philosophy for Children? 
  • P4C is a pedagogy based on Socratic dialogue.  
  • P4C aims to engage pupils in Exploratory talk through the careful use of reasoning and language. 
  • As such P4C involves pupils in philosophising.  
  • P4C is not an academic study of Philosophy. 
Disputational talk in which speakers….. 
  • are competitive rather than cooperative  
  • don’t listen  each stick to their own point of view (‘Yes it is! – No it’s not!’)  
  • make their own decisions
Cumulative talk in which speakers……… 
  • share ideas  agree with each other  
  • …but there is no critical evaluation of ideas 
Exploratory talk in 
  • all actively participate  
  • ask questions: What do you think…? Why do you think…?  
  • share relevant information: Do you remember…?  
  • give reasons for their views: I think that because..  constructively 
  • criticise: Yes, but if….  try to reach agreement: 
  • Do we all agree that…? 
Structure of an Enquiry
  • Preparation 
  • Presentation of stimulus 
  • Thinking time / reflection 
  • Sharing ideas 
  • Question forming 
  • Linking 
  • Selection
  • Dialogue 
  • Last words

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Definitions of non-theists

source: highlights comments

Useful list of defintions - sell 'Labels' for terms defined.

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The Power of Prayer?


Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Big Bang, the LHC and the Evolution of the Creation of the Universe by Brian Cox

In "There's probably no God, the Atheists Guide to Christmas" edited by Ariane Sherine, Brian Cox has a chapter on the Big Bang titled "The Large Hadron Collider: A scientific creation story". I've summarised it and added further details from the hour long video by Brian Cox at CERN.

The LHC recreates the conditions of the universe less than a billionth of a second after the big bang. The job of the LHC is too study the universe during the time when the Higgs particles are thought to have been generated. The history of the universe is thus:

  • 13.7 billion years ago universe begins (t=0)
    • gravity separates from the other forces of nature (t+10-43 seconds)
    • exponential expansion of universe (t+10-36 s)
      • from size of electron to size of melon (t+10-32 s)
      • with formation of sub-atomic particles
        • and Higgs field (t+10-12 s)
          • gives mass to sub-atomic particles
            • Higgs acts like cosmic treacle
          • if Higgs particles aka Higgs Boson, aka The God Particle (Leon Lederman) exist (after 40 years we don't know) then Higgs Boson must be created in LHC (Standard Model)
          • Higgs particles decays too quickly to be seen even in LHC 
            • but Muon will be seen from decay of Higgs particle 
          • Higgs Boson is tens or hundreds of times heavier than the protons that were smashed together (mini big bang) to create it (E=mc2). Energy=mass
            • because Higgs particles are light enough to show up in LHC
          • if Higgs particles are NOT found in LHC 
              • some other mechanism (Minimally Supersymetric Standard Model?) will show up in LHC which creates mass
              • and explains Dark Matter
After t+10-12 s time we already know what happened to the universe because smaller cousins to LHC (eg Fermilab Tevatron?) have been working for decades:-
  • 4 forces of nature (strong nuclear, electromagnetic, weak, gravity) formed (t+10-6 s)
    • strong nuclear force
      • binds quarks together in nucleus of atom
    • electromagnetism
      • holds electrons in place around nucleus
    • weak force
      • allows sun to shine, explains radioactive decay
    • gravity
      • is missing from Standard model
        • creates infinities when gravity is added 
          • if treat particles as tiny points, when they come infinitely close together, gravity becomes infinitely strong 
          • by treating particles as strings (not tiny points) we have a way for gravity to work
      • but gravity is included in Einstein's General Relativity
        • a Theory of Everything would combine Standard model with General Relativity
        • String Theory combines all particles and forces (and makes a decent cup of coffee!)
  • quarks and leptons interact
  • quarks stick together to give protons & neutrons, neutrinos roam universe (t+1 s)
  • protons & neutrons form elements (t+3 minutes)
  • Hydrogen 75% : Helium 25% ratio fixed (t+30 m)
  • Light as Photons set free from dense universe: cosmic microwave background (t+ 380,000 years)
  • gravity collapses H & He to form stars
  • 4 forces of nature interact: x3 He fuse to give Carbon
    • more fusions give oxygen and other light elements
  • stars run out of fuel, explode 
    • scattering C & Oxygen & other light elements
    • creating Gold, Silver & other heavy elements
  • gravity forms stars & dense rocky planets orbit
  • on at least one planet, occurs self replication & life & us!
Additional material added above from the 5 YouTube videos:-

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Friday, October 09, 2009

The God Virus

The God Virus: How religion infects our lives and culture” is a book by psychologist Darrel Ray (the introduction and first two chapters of this work are available for PDF download here), and one of the most powerful concepts in atheology. It is not just a metaphor; it is a real phenomenon.

The God Virus is a species of “mind virus”, the term coined by Dawkins in his 1991 (15 years before “The God Delusion”) essay “Viruses of the Mind”. He also uses it in his 1991 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture “The Genesis of Purpose” (45:00). Much more recently, he used it again, very powerfully, in his superb Deschner Preis – acceptance speech.

While the gene is the replicator of the biological virus, the replicator of the mind virus is the “meme”, another term coined by Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” (1976). He didn’t set out to found a new science of “Memetics” but to promote the idea of “Universal Darwinism”, which has been developed by others, notably Dennett in “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

But Memetics has become a science. Susan Blackmore, in “The Meme Machine”, who pushed memetic theory further than anyone.

Mind viruses are living things in a very real sense. They behave, in many ways like biological viruses. They replicate, they evolve, they invade and consume hosts (people’s minds), they propagate from host to host, they occur in epidemics. They also die out, given the right conditions.

The God Virus behaves like this. As Ray says in the book:-
It infects the brain and alters critical thinking skills. It leaves the skill intact for other religions but disables critical thinking about one’s own religion.
The God Virus, in one strain or another, has infected the minds of the vast majority of human beings today and throughout history. Perhaps atheists are somehow endowed with “immunity”.

How can the active atheist stop it? Rational argument, with the possessor of an infected mind, is hopeless by definition; critical thinking (vis-à-vis that religion) is disabled. While the God Virus resides in its host, this defence mechanism renders it unassailable. However, it has two areas of vulnerability:-

  1. The God Virus has evolved highly effective methods of propagating itself from mind to mind. It doesn’t just disable the critical thinking of an infected mind; it makes that mind spread the word. But, in the outside environment, the word can face competition. Typically, that competition comes from other strains of the God Virus, but it could come from Atheism. The more Atheism is advanced in this environment, the more difficult becomes the spread of the God Virus.

  2. Not only that, the God Virus will gradually weaken over time in the infected mind. It needs constant reinforcement. That’s one of the functions of collective worship. Infected minds keep each other topped-up. This is essentially the same as propagation and the God Virus is vulnerable in the same way.

So, the advancement of Atheism is an effective antidote to the God Virus. Over time, it can – properly organised – wipe it out. No wonder religious leaders are worried!


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Review by Stephen Law of 'The Case for God' by Karen Armstrong


Stephen Law describes Karen Armstrong's 'God' as a psychological state that can arise, just as easily through, for example, long arduous training in a sport leading to the 'runners high'. His review is followed by many excellent comments.

Book: The Case for God by Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong promulgates 'The Golden Rule' during her 2008/2009 TED broadcasts.

Stephen Law talks about apophaticism, the view of some theologians like Denys Turner, that God is unknowable. Also see Jonathan Miller's interview with Denys Turner for the 'Atheism Tapes' when Turner bangs on, if I recall correctly, about 'how can something come from nothing'.

TEDTalks : Karen Armstrong: Let's revive the Golden Rule - The Charter for Compassion

Weeks from the Charter for Compassion launch on November 12, Karen Armstrong looks at religion's role in the 21st century: Will its dogmas divide us? Or will it unite us for common good? She reviews the catalysts that can drive the world's faiths to rediscover the Golden Rule.

And HASSNERS typically believe in The Golden Rule. HASSNERS reported Karen Armstrong's campaign November 2008.

Why a Charter for Compassion?

The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy -- moral imagination -- to put ourselves in others’ shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions which would cause them harm.  

The Charter, crafted by people all over the world is a cry for a return to this central principle which is so often overlooked in our world. 

It reminds everyone that the Golden Rule should be practised “all day and every day.” Like the Charter of Human Rights, this Charter for Compassion is a yardstick against which HASSNERS, religious and secular leaders can measure their behaviour; it can empower people to demand a more compassionate teaching from preachers & politicians & businessmen; it can mobilise youth, who have seen what happens when bigotry becomes rife in a society; it can make interfaith & secular understanding a priority; inspire scholars, educators and the media to explore the role compassion has played, and ensure that it compassion is a focal point in the curricula of schools and colleges.  

The Charter seeks to change the conversation so that compassion becomes a key word in public and private discourse, making it clear that any ideology that breeds hatred or contempt ~ be it religious or secular ~ has failed the test of our time.  

We need everybody to participate ~ atheists, HASSNERS, Humanists, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims ~ everybody! 

Our polarized world needs to see compassion practically implicated ~ politically, socially and economically ~ and show that in our divided world, which so often stresses difference, compassion is something on which we can all agree.