Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Beyond Belief. Do you believe in Angels? 46% believe in a Guardian angel!

source: (listen until 4th January) via

Chris French says "Agents behind something are an evolutionary explanation." Why do people believe in fairies or alien abductions? Some are phantasy prone personalities. Is belief in angels a substitute for reason? Some believe in angels but not in God. New age ideas - pick and mix.

5 atheist professional philosophers to every one theist pro philosopher

source: via

Stephen says "David Bourget and David Chalmers have released the results of the largest survey of professional philosophers ever conducted. Some interesting results:

72.8% atheism
14.6% theism
12.5% other

49.8% naturalism
25.8% non-naturalism (but not necessarily supernaturalism)
24.2% other

Of course, quite what any of this shows re the truth of any of these beliefs, if anything, can be debated...."

The PhilPapers Survey was a survey of professional philosophers and others on their philosophical views, carried out in November 2009. The Survey was taken by 3226 respondents, including 1803 philosophy faculty members and/or PhDs and 829 philosophy graduate students.

NB. Amongst Professional Philosophers

back to whole sample

in fine mode

back to course mode highlights comments


Monday, December 28, 2009

Are all valid ideas derived from Rationalism? A palette of reason.

source: Zoonomian highlights comments: Tim Jones draws insights from a talk by Stephen Fry and expands on the meaning of Rationalism and its many synonyms. Read full article. Just as some concepts are grounded in the 'Scientific Method' so can other (equally valid?) ideas be derive from Rationalism and Empiricism.
Yet at an emotional level, attacks on rationality can grate, especially with scientists and technologists.  I bristled when Fry likened over-zealous support for rationalism to belief in religion.  Was this the same Stephen Fry whose debate trounced the Catholic Church, and who regularly shares platforms with the likes of Richard Dawkins? But rather than rejecting rationalism, I believe he made a valid point: that it is too easy to assume a rationalist approach in all situations – however complex – when sometimes the abstract premises from which we deduce knowledge for decision making are just not up to it.

A palette of reason
Moving on, but with an eye to Fry’s sentiments, there seem to be an awful lot of reasonable sounding words out there: like ‘rational’, ‘empirical’, ‘evidence-based’, ‘logical’; and indeed –  ’reasonable’.  Whether in the context of drugs policy, climate change, faith schools, or whatever;  these words sit like so many pigments on a palette of reason, wielded by individuals and governments alike, to convince us – and themselves – that a particular course of action carries some special sanction.  But why do the same words frequently lead to misunderstandings and angst?

It seems to be down to definition and interpretation.  Boiling our list down to rationalism and empiricism (subsuming ‘evidence-based’ into empiricism and  logic into rationalism) the dictionary definitions and learned philosophical commentaries leave plenty of scope for confusion.
The  Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines rationalism as:
the practice or principle of basing opinions and actions on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response’and empiricism as

the theory that all knowledge is derived from experience and observation
which seems pretty clear. But  the Oxford Pocket English Dictionary muddies the rational water by including philosophical and theological interpretations that flex the definition of rationalism to a form no scientist could agree with.  It seems scientific rationalism is just one brand.  I’ve really no idea what to make of the theological interpretation given as:
the practice of treating reason as the ultimate authority in religion’.
but it put me in mind of this quote from the current Pope, relayed in this interview by the Vatican astronomer Guy Consolmagno, and equally confusing to my concept of rationality:
religion needs science to keep itself away from superstition


 And when A.N.Wilson goes on to invoke the R-word:
‘Those who dare question scientists are demonised for their irrationality. Global warming may or may not be a certainty, but anyone who queries it has his sanity questioned. Cast doubt on these gods of certainty and you are accused of wanting to suppress free expression -…’
Are scientists certain about climate science? I don't think so. So anyone who questions it should surely not be demonised! For example IPCC Synthesis report pg 17 states "Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations." On pg 5 the IPCC define 'very likely' and other terms viz. 
Where uncertainty in specific outcomes is assessed using expert judgment and statistical analysis of a body of evidence (e.g. observations or model results), then the following likelihood ranges are used to express the assessed probability of occurrence: virtually certain >99%; extremely likely >95%; very likely >90%; likely >66%; more likely than not > 50%; about as likely as not 33% to 66%; unlikely <33%; very unlikely <10%; extremely unlikely <5%; exceptionally unlikely <1%.
he’s right;  anyone who doesn’t comply with the scientific definition of rationality is demonised.  Personally I’d like the scientific definition to be universally accepted, but while there are powerful constituencies who benefit from and delight in wooliness defended as realism or flexibility  (politicians, theologians, dictionary compilers), I can’t see it happening.

 Likewise, the only kind of rationality under which a discussion on the virtues of faith schools makes sense is one that allows ethical and metaphysical propositions (e.g. is there a god).  Moreover, we’re left with politicians working up a drugs policy using an ethics-based ‘political rationality’, and an education policy that recognises and values a ‘religious rationality’.
Unfortunately, the transparency being called for concerning when and under what circumstances this flexing of scientific rationalism happens, also threatens politicians with the anathema of exposing less visible agendas traditionally played close to the chest.

The Godless States of America

source: > >

The Godless States of America

by Catherine Rampell - Economix

Thanks to belacaleb for the link.

‘Tis the season to judge your neighbors for their impiety, and this year the Pew Research Center is helping with this time-honored tradition.

The polling organization recently released rankings on the religiosity of the states, based on 2007 survey responses to four questions: the importance of religion in people’s lives, frequency of attendance at worship services, frequency of prayer and absolute certainty of belief in God.

Based on those responses, Mississippi has the most religious population. The states whose populations report the least religious behavior are New Hampshire, Vermont, Alaska and Maine.

Mississippi was the top-ranked state in all four polling categories, and several other Southern states also ranked very high on the measures.
Continue reading to Pew Research link 

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas

ZOMGitsCriss YouTube

Richard Dawkins on Start The Week - BBC Radio 4, 9.30pm 28th December


Start The Week - BBC Radio 4

by Andrew Marr - Start The Week

9AM Monday GMT = 1AM Monday, Los Angeles = 8PM Monday, Melbourne

Andrew Marr looks at the ideas and issues that have dominated the world of science in the past year, and those that will be vitally important in the year ahead.

Sir Roy Anderson looks at the developments and mutations of swine flu and how the world deals with global pandemics. As a former government advisor, he also explores that thorny issue of when politics and science collide. Richard Dawkins reflects on a year dominated by Darwin, Professor John Shepherd on the blue-sky thinking to combat climate change with a report on geoengineering, and Barbara Sahakian considers whether taking pills to make us clever, well-behaved and sociable will become the norm in the years ahead.

Non-UK residents can listen to the show live, or for the next 7 days, if you have BBC iPlayer capability. See...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Church of England recruiting drive targets two-year-olds

Children as young as two are to be targeted as part of a new campaign to recruit young people back to the church, the Guardian has learned.

The Church of England is planning its first concerted drive to engage under- 18s after admitting that it is comprehensively failing to connect with children and teenagers, reports The Guardian.

Proposals will be put before the general synod in February that include a blueprint to set up breakfast, homework and sports clubs in schools as well as working in publicly funded toddler playgroups to spread the Christian word.
I've added my own comments under 'crabsallover' signature saying that it is both immoral and should be illegal under the European Convention on Human rights to teach religion, belief or non-religious belief to children, without parents explicit written permission:

Crabsallover wrote, 25 December 2009:
Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights states:-
""Freedom of thought, conscience and religion 
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience 
and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion 
or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with 
others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in 
worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one?s religion or beliefs shall be
subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are
necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety,
for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection
of the rights and freedoms of others."
As Jim Murdoch said in the Council of Europe online pdf booklet "Freedom of thought, conscience and religion - A guide to the implementation of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights" - Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 requires:-
"that parents? philosophical and religious beliefs are accorded respect in the provision of education to their children. "
Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, says:-
"to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions."
Article 2 of Protocol No. 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights in the context of the right to education provides that:-
"No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions and thus a parent may prevent the ?indoctrination? of his child in school."
I agree with Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society who said, in the above article:-
"Parents should not be forced to have their children endure religious proselytising as a captive audience as the price of receiving public service."
In my opinion the phrase in Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights " Freedom to manifest one?s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations ... for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others" refers most importantly to the rights and freedoms of children. Without parents explicit written permission, nobody should be allowed to teach, preach or proselytize their religion or beliefs (including non-religious beliefs) to any child, whatever their age.
To coincide with United Nations Universal Children's Day on 20 November, the British Humanist Association "Atheist Billboard Campaign" depicts young children with the quote "Please don't label me, let me grow up and decide for myself".
Parents should be allowed to teach their children about their religion or belief or non-religious belief (and give others their explicit written permission to do so).
But don't label children implying that they have beliefs such as 'Catholic', 'Protestant', 'Muslim', 'Hindu' or 'Sikh'. You wouldn't label young children as 'Marxist', 'Anarchist', 'Socialist', 'Libertarian' or 'Humanist' now would you?
I think it immoral and should be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights, for the authors of the Church of England 'Going for Growth' document, to target children as young as two as part of a campaign to recruit young people back to the church - without parents explicit written permission.
I think it immoral and should be illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights to organise breakfast, homework and sports clubs in schools as well as working in publicly funded toddler playgroups to spread the Christian word - without parents explicit written permission.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

HASSNERS Humanist links at Liverpool Humanists

source: -  Liverpool Humanist Group

Many thanks Liverpool Humanist Group for linking to HASSNERS!

What is the probability that the idea of God or gods are just the product of the human imagination?

In November 2009 I polled "What is the probability that the idea of God or gods are just the product of the human imagination?" Results above.

It seems that most people who voted are split evenly between being absolutely certain (100%) and almost completely certain (99.9%) that God or gods are just the product of the human imagination.

In Richard Dawkins' book 'The God Delusion' he considers 'The God Hypothesis' and places human judgements about the existence of God on a spectrum of probabilities from 1. Strong Theist. 100% probability of God - to - 7. Strong Atheist via 6. De facto Atheist - very low probability but short of zero. etc.

Using Dawkins terminology, most HASSNERS who voted in this poll are either Strong Atheists (100% in poll) or De facto Atheist (99.9% in poll).

Compare the above poll results to the HASSNERS 0909 Definitions: Atheist - de facto atheist antitheists who affirm, in all probability, that gods do not exist.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

HASSNERS & Humanists4Science welcomes new legislation making teaching of evolution compulsory in primary schools

HASSNERS & Humanists4Science welcomes new legislation, on primary curriculum reform in England, which introduces compulsory teaching of evolution to ages 5-11 year old children.

Chris Street (Dorset Humanists Education Officer) reports that following his Humanist4Science July 2009 proposals to the Government, legislation was introduced today (11 November 2009), to make evolution compulsory and explicitly taught to children aged 5-11 years in Primary Schools.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) (19 November 2009) press release states that Evolution will be compulsory in the Primary curriculum from September 2011.

However the Humanists4Science proposal for compulsory teaching of  'The Scientific Method' in Primary Schools, was not taken up.

In July 2009 Chris Street authored the Humanists4Science submission to the Primary Curriculum reform consultation by Jim Rose.

Chris Street of the Humanists4Science group said "this is brilliant news because now children will learn about evolution as early as five years rather than when they are fourteen. I met Desmond Swayne MP on 10 July to discuss teaching evolution in Primary Schools  and he who wrote to Diana Johnson MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary for State for Schools at the DCSF). I think Humanists4Science have had a direct input into successfully changing National Primary School curriculum legislation."

Andrew Copson, BHA Director of Education and Public Affairs, said, ‘It is fantastic to hear final confirmation that, for the first time, evolution will now be included in the national primary curriculum. Evolution is arguably the most important concept underlying the life sciences. That it had not originally been included in the revised primary curriculum was of great concern and we are pleased to see that has now been rectified.’, 19 November 2009, Major reform to curriculum at the heart of a renewed push to drive up standards.
sourceHumanists4Science submission to the Jim Rose Primary Curriculum reform consultation.

Department for Children Schools and Families Press Release

The Department for Children Schools and Families 19 November 2009 Press Release stated that from September 2011 in Primary Schools:-
"Evolution made compulsory and importance of British history confirmed in new areas of learning"

"Schools Minister Vernon Coaker has today confirmed plans to bring in a new curriculum to shake-up primary education – with overwhelming support from pupils, parents, teachers and experts."
"New legislation introduced today on primary curriculum reform in England will drive up education standards across the board. Vernon Coaker confirmed that evolution will become a compulsory part of science education"
"Due to the positive response to Jim Rose’s proposals, few changes were made to the proposed Areas of Learning. However, after consulting with parents, teachers, the science community and other interested parties, pupils will be expected to explicitly cover evolution as part of their learning. Learning about evolution is an important part of science education, and pupils already learn about it at secondary school."

The independent review of the primary curriculum, the first in ten years, was led by educational expert Sir Jim Rose and began in spring 2008. The new legislation is based on his report, which sought the views of teachers, parents, pupils and subject experts and took over a year to complete. The Government accepted Jim Rose’s recommendations in full in April this year. The BHA, Humanists4Science and others commented on his review by 24 July 2009.

Humanists4Science Proposals on Evolution - Author: Chris Street, Dorset Humanists
  • in the Science, Life and Living sections include:-
    • Charles Darwins’ theory of Evolution by Natural Selection - the single most important idea underlying the life sciences. 
    • how organisms are adapted to their environments and how variation can lead to evolutionary changes.’ 
    • children should understand that, over time, organisms have evolved.
  • the Key Stage 4 curriculum (pg 224) states: -
    • Organisms and health - In their study of science, the following should be covered: 
      • a) organisms are interdependent and adapted to their environments 
      • b) variation within species can lead to evolutionary changes and similarities and differences between species can be measured and classified 
  • Humanists4Science recommend that part of the Key Stage 4 curriculum be included in the later stages of the Primary Curriculum viz. 
    • ‘to apply knowledge and understanding to describe how organisms are adapted to their environments and how variation can lead to evolutionary changes’ 
  • Humanists4Science recommend addition of notes:-
    • L14. to apply knowledge and understanding to describe and explain the structure and function of key human body systems including reproduction 
    • L15. to investigate the structure, function, life cycle and growth of flowering plants and explain how these are linked 
    • L16. to investigate, identify and explain the benefits of micro-organisms and the harm they can cause 
  • Humanists4Science welcome the example of the study of Evolution and Darwin (page 48) included in the report under Cross-curricular studies:-
    • ‘Schools that chose the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth to launch a study of this famous Victorian and his lasting contribution to science included learning about the journeys of the Beagle, mapping the route to the Galapagos Islands and the climate and conditions revealed through the voyage which furnished Darwin with a wealth of evidence for his theory of evolution.‘ 
  • Conclusion: 
    • Humanists4Science consider that Evolution be specifically mentioned in the Primary Curriculum.

Humanists4Science Proposals on Scientific Method. - Author: Chris Street, Dorset Humanists
Humanists4Science proposed (pages 16-17) that the 'scientific method' be included in the Primary curriculum.

We recommended that the scientific and technological curriculum be amended to:-

Pupils develop valuable skills in applying scientific method, that is generating and testing ideas, gathering and making sense of evidence, developing possible solutions, and evaluating processes and outcomes. They learn to distinguish evidence from opinion and communicate their findings in a variety of ways."

"essential knowledge should include "a direct reference to the value of science as a way of finding out true facts.

"addition of "how the scientific method enables us to learn truths about reality". Humanists4Science proposed that key skills, taken together, make up the scientific method. and that  scientific method skills are needed by children to make progress:’

"Conclusion: Humanists4Science consider that Scientific Method be specifically mentioned in the Primary Curriculum."

Submission by Humanists4Science

Who are Humanists4Science?
Humanists4Science group is for humanists with an active interest in science. We believe that science is a fundamental part of humanism but also that it should be directed to humane and ethical ends. Science is, in our view, more a method than a body of facts. Humanists4Science seek to promote, within the humanist community and beyond, the application of the scientific method to issues of concern to broader society.