Sunday, 30 September 2012

Sentamu for Archbishop of Canterbury

In The Independent you can find this article, which includes:

Among the slightly more liberal clergymen who have been suggested are the Bishop of Norwich, Graham Jones, and James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. The media-savvy John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is also a strong contender and would probably appeal to the secular masses despite his opposition to gay marriage. However, he is a divisive figure within the church and has a powerful lobby of detractors who are often nicknamed the ABYs – Anyone But Yorks. 

So . . .  media savvy means "a man who can't quite complete a sentence".   This is a man who is so spiritual that making sense to thinking people is not on the agenda.  See this post for one of the reasons why I hold this opinion.

From a secular disestablishmentarian point of view, John Sentamu would clearly be the best choice as the new leader of the Anglican Church.  With him at the helm, the Anglican ship would be heading inexorably for the rocks, and I can't think of a better way for it to die.

It is high time that it was put out of its misery.

Call mean ABABY - Anyone But Anyone But Yorks!

Clever humour is the worst kind

I was quietly giggling at the humour and rhetoric of Robin Ince, as I was listening again on episode 154 of The Pod Delusion yesterday.  This was the speech he gave at the March for a Secular Europe two weeks ago in London.

Asked why I was laughing, I said I thought Robin's humour was very clever and interesting.  I shared a couple of his comments and they brought a laugh too.

But then came another comment.  "Clever humour is the worst kind".

And this is one of the things that is wrong with a Christian viewpoint - particularly a Methodist viewpoint where eloquent sermons criticising eloquent speech were a staple of the Sunday services.  I remember being subjected to the 'eloquent speech' sermon often enough myself, while visiting a Methodist Church in Belfast, and at the time I thought it ironic.

What a shame that religious people fear intellectualism so much.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Things Christians say, part 34: Well, why don't you try praying?

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

Well, why don't you try praying?


I often hear people saying that prayer does not change what happens but it changes the person who is praying.

After a mere few decades of prayer I think I can say that I never found it to work very well for me.  There comes a point where it is pointed out to you that there are other options instead of prayer, and if you open your heart to that message that brings a whole new world of possibilities.

A change in philosophy has not wholly changed my life, but why should I expect that?  However, I do feel a certain intellectual honesty in my life that was missing before.  Things are much more satisfactory, and nothing is missing.



Why don't YOU try 'not praying'.  Just for a change, get off your knees and do something useful.

Last episode:  You're not really an atheist!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Science sings new songs

Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks was speaking on BBC Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day' spot this morning.  Predictably he didn't fail to be patronising and . . . to be blunt . . . wrong!

Being one of those people who has reached his position by being a master of rhetoric you might expect his metaphors to be more reliable than these.

Science is prose, religion is poetry.

Science speaks, religion sings.

These are the words of someone who is clearly scientifically illiterate - a technological luddite or philistine who seems to be constantly looking for ways to show how much his particular religion is supported by scientific discovery.  Let's take his metaphors at face value and work from there. 

Firstly, it is no insult to say that science is analogous to prose.  Prose tends to be more objective and accurate than poetry (admittedly not exclusively).  Prose is more easily modified and corrected, as its factual content is more important than than how nice it sounds.  Prose is not as constrained by rhyme or rhythm.  Prose is not necessarily less beautiful than poetry.

On the other hand, while poetry might also be aesthetically pleasing, I would suggest that it is more subjective, emotional and unreliable.  So I agree that his first metaphor has some value, but certainly not in the way that he meant.  It demonstrates very clearly that he does not understand the value and beauty of science.  I think it shows him up as having the sort of intellectual deficiency that the religious often accuse scientists of portraying.

The second metaphor is much more risible.  It is clear that the symphonies of science do not work for this man.  Although he is tone-deaf in this context he makes out that he stands on the aesthetic high ground.  I don't think this metaphor has much value for a few reasons.

Science sings wonderful new songs every day, striving for greater harmony all the time, while retaining the best and most successful melodies which then become well loved classics.  Many of the songs of science have greater beauty than the age-old unchanging dirges that religion chants to itself over the centuries.

Platitude of the Day, the parody site for Thought for the Day responded typically well to Sacks on this outpouring of nonsense.

It is worth a quick read! 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Papillons in flames - putting out a flame with electricity

A spectacular physics demonstrations with a candle flame in a high electric field.

Educational AND amusing.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A fond thing, vainly invented

The Anglican Church was more-or-less invented on the order of King Henry VIII, who had his own reasons for wanting to break away from the Roman Catholic Church.  Of course it is based on the Northern European protestant tradition.

His reasons were not the same as mine would have been (although I'm glad to say that I was never a Catholic).  I don't think there is any evidence that he considered it to be one of the greatest forces for evil in the world, so we differ on that topic too.

In order to make it perfectly clear how the Anglican and Catholic doctrines differed, the 39 Articles of Religion represent a final settlement after a few earlier attempts.  They could be found in the 1662 Prayer Book and have been slightly modified and updated by successive generations.  Although they are not intended as a complete statement of the Anglican faith, but to set out the differences from the Catholic position, I think they cover virtually every significant factor in the myth of christianity.

Whether you believe in what they say or not, it is possible to admire the language contained.  One of my favorite phrases comes in Article 22

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

You have to delight in such an expression don't you!

I think it might be instructive to go through them and generate 39 Articles of Disbelief.

Perhaps it could become the regular weekly feature on Wednesdays, to replace the Amazing Hitchslap Index series that ended a few months ago.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Serving Saki

In some of Japan - if not all - rice wine is served in a way that seems wasteful to us foreigners.  The cup is placed in a box and it is filled until it is overflowing.  The waitress doesn't even stop then.  She keeps pouring for several seconds longer, just to prove without doubt that you are not getting short measure.

Serving saki - rice wine in Japan
Serving saki traditionally in Japan

Apparently it is not good form to pick up the box and drink the liquid that it contains.  

Of course sometimes it is served hot (not my preference) and sometimes chilled - mmm. Its a while since I had chance to visit Japan and I'm missing it.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Giggleswick Test

People in England can sometimes be a bit self-conscious about their accents.  By no means does everyone worry, but people from the North who move to the South often naturally modify the way they pronounce their vowels.  For example the hard northern A in the word 'bath' transmutes into something sounding more like 'barth' in the South.

Most of us don't mind how people speak with regional accents, but sometimes it is fun to mock those who make a deliberate and sudden change because they perceive that they would otherwise be victims of discrimination.  One of the famous ways to to this is something called the Giggleswick-trap or Giggleswick-test, named after a place in Yorkshire.

A pre-existing and well known test was 'Love, Mother, Honey, Bus', but it is too familiar to potential victims and a practised dissembler would already have rehearsed it to perfection.

If you want a better one, this Giggleswick Test is to be read, sight-unseen, by the suspected culprit:

"Oh, blast! The brass strap that fastens the glass in my Dad's gas-mask has snapped; the glass has cracked, and my Dad's mad."

Northerners or Southerners who are comfortable in their accents will have no problem reading this, but pretenders will have to calculate, for each word, how much to tighten the vowel.  The word 'strap' is the first to make them pause, and then 'snapped', 'cracked' and 'mad' will probably get them too.

Do you have similar tests where you live?  Please share.

Small note:  I never did like that use of the word 'mad'!  Perhaps it is not northern enough?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Things Christians say, part 33: You're not really an atheist!

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

You're not really an atheist!


Surprisingly, some atheists, perhaps even most atheists, are really rather nice people.  You might find that you can agree with them about nearly everything.  As long as you avoid a few delicate topics, you wouldn't know that they were not Christians.

It is in these conditions that I have most often heard the words "You're not really an atheist", sometimes with a tiny question added on the end - "are you?"

In my case, I really am.  We can even stray onto a discussion of some of the delicate topics if you feel brave enough.  I could argue my point of view very robustly, but I would like to hope that I would have the sensitivity to tailor my comments to your tolerance levels.  In the end, it doesn't really matter to me what you happen to believe in, as long as you don't impose your beliefs on me.  That doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to share my point of view though.



Having said above that you might not be able to distinguish between an atheist and a Christian (providing you avoid a few hot topics), I think this says one good thing . . . about Christians.

They can't be all bad if they are so agreeable.

If you and I should ever meet and discuss those hot topics, I should warn you that I don't accept the bible as evidence of anything relevant to the existence of God or Jesus, but only as evidence of what people later came to believe.  In order to know whether something is true or not, I do require evidence.

So I think it is safe to say that I really AM an atheist.

Last episode (2 weeks ago)I can't believe that you are so arrogant (or offensive).
Next week:  Well, why don't you try praying?

Did Jesus really have a wife?

This papyrus has been in the news recently, and it appeared on the Daily Telegraph's gallery of pictures, here.

A tiny fragment of papyrus mentioning Jesus and his wife
A tiny fragment of papyrus, apparently mentioning Jesus and his wife.

The caption says "This is a previously unknown scrap of ancient papyrus written in ancient Egyptian Coptic. The papyrus has four words written in Coptic that provide the first unequivocal evidence that within 150 years of his death, some followers of Jesus believed him to have been married.  Picture: REUTERS/Karen L. King/Harvard University"

The provenance of this fragment is hazy, from everything I have read.  It might be real, or it might be a forgery.  The discoverer, Harvard Professor Karen King still has an open mind on the question of its veracity, but she compares the text with the Gospel of Thomas which is one of the gospels that never made it into the canon of the bible.  (This is the one which seems to be a collection of the sayings of Jesus.)

Karen King with the papyrus fragment
Karen King with the papyrus fragment

Of course there are many people who don't actually believe that Jesus existed at all, so nothing is completely certain, and perhaps the new revelations don't matter at all.  But is it an interesting and surprising new twist to an old story, at least.  The question for me might be re-phrased.

Did the wife of Jesus actually have a husband?

And it is interesting to observe that the Vatican seems to be hoping that the whole problem will go away on its own.

So far they have said . . . absolutely nothing.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Secularist stars at the NSS conference

As I mentioned earlier, I went to London today for the National Secular Society's conference.  I'll probably write more about it another day, but here's a little comment about each of the speakers.  I should say that the event was attended by nearly 800 people from a range of backgrounds - including at least one gentleman wearing a clerical collar.

Professor Ted Cantle - business-like and well informed.  Being English and male might lead some to wonder how he is qualified to comment about people who are in neither category but I found him convincing.  Multiculturalism is to be replaced by 'interculturalism'. 

Nia Griffith (Member of Parliament), neither English nor male - was an entertaining and informative speaker.  Her best anecdote (of many) was about the Human Embryology and Fertilsation Act.  Constituents were worried that "there'll be centaurs running in the streets".  [Its odd that they will not be cantering or galloping.]

Pragna Patel was more successful than I expected at involving those of us who were not 'Southall Black Sisters'.  [I suppose I'm a little wary of positive discrimination or something - but being white, English and male, I hope you might make allowances for that . . . please?]  Speaking of minority groups who seek favours from the state she said "They use the language of human rights but actually seek to suppress it."  This was echoed by most of the following speakers.  Excellent points throughout the speech and good answers to questions.

Nick Cohen's brilliant speech was one of the highlights of the day.  He acknowledged that journalists and broadcasters were afraid to admit that self-censorship exists.  All like to pose as dissidents in a dictatorship, challenging establishments, transgressing boundaries, but they can't acknowledge that certain topics are just off limits.  He added that 200 years ago you would know that the finest minds in the world also had supernatural beliefs as a broad explanation of the world. Now that is no longer possible.  As soon as you reach some level of knowledge you will know that the greatest minds in the world do not hold supernatural beliefs now.  Religion is no longer able to be involved in high culture.  This makes people defensive and wary of learning.  Religion now knows itself to be intellectually on the back foot.

Maryam Namazie was next but I'll come back to her later.

Peter Tatchell delivered a fine speech as usual.  He emphasised that the enemy was organised faith itself, not necessarily the faithful people.  The clerics are the main threat and it is time we said so.  Afterwards someone commented that he had foundered a little when questioned about the ordinary faithful essentially lending support to the religious leaders, and about funding for improvements to human rights.  I think that was a reasonable assessment.

Richard Dawkins came last - I can listen to him any time.  He was advertised as the keynote speaker for very obvious reasons.  The first half of his talk was excellent, with comments on dealing with potentially violent people "I fear you because you are mad but don't confuse fear with respect.Actually telling people that they are "behaving like a spoilt brat having a temper tantrum" might not be the best advice.  He spent some time on American politics, obviously with the impending election in mind.  Christian scriptures are genuinely ancient. The Book of Mormon is not ancient but ludicrously anachronistic [and he explained why, in some detail, and with great wit]. Many of the core beliefs are measurably more preposterous than claims of Christianity.  At least it is arguable that Jesus existed. All of that was delivered with his usual verbal dexterity.  The less I say about the second half of the speech, his confusing satire about Tony Blair, the better, but Richard is not a stand-up comedian by profession.

Now back to the real star of the show.  It is clear why Dawkins was the keynote speaker, but the only one of the day to get a standing ovation, along with the longest applause, was Maryam Namazie.  Her speech was exactly what you would expect from her, and on the basis of the four times that I have heard her, she delivers it to the same high standard every time she speaks.  She combines a passion for justice with a deep understanding and knowledge of the subject.  It will be hard to do justice to her but in a few days I will write more about what she said.

Aside from that - it was a great day out and I met a lot of very interesting people who had travelled much further than I had to attend.  Hello to anyone among them who is reading this.  I expect all my readers to try to attend next year if geographically feasible.  Thanks to Terry Sanderson and crew for organising it all at a very reasonable price and reaching out to so many people.

Small note: published hurriedly on the day of the event.  Please forgive the larger number of typos than usual.

Update!  Most of the talks have now appeared on the Pod Delusion Extra site - although at the time of writing (2012-09-30) the best one is still awaiting permission.  Hopefully we can all hear the words of Maryam Namazie soon.

Charging for secularism pays

I'm on the train to London again this morning, just like last Saturday.  This time I am going to a conference called Secularism 2012, organised by the National Secular Society.

I think it is highly amusing that this event is sold out, and 800 people have actually paid to be there to hear some great speakers.  By contrast, last week's March for a Secular Europe was free to attend, but fewer people took the opportunity to have a lovely sunny day outside and hear some other great speakers.

What an odd world!

The other interesting observation is that Secularism 2012 is such good value for money.  At just over £30 - including lunch - it is much cheaper than any day events that I attend professionally.  They tend to cost at least £250, and lunch is extra.

Small note: I understand that the extra price for professional conferences isn't all profit - but still ... 

A short account of the great event can be found here.  A wonderful day out.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Satire must do everything it can

There is a German saying which translates roughly as "Satire must do everything it can", and today as France closes 20 embassies around the world because of a cartoon, that saying ought to be our motto.  Standing up for freedom of speech is THAT important.

This morning I actually heard a Muslim speaker, Fatima Malik saying that violent reactions to the publications of images of Mohamed were unjustified.   Now don't get too excited.   She didn't condemn the criminals outright, or mention what an outrageous concept it is to go wrecking property just because someone somewhere drew a picture.  She didn't even call for the perpetrators to be publicly ostracised or imprisoned . . . or even stoned to death as is the penalty for really serious crimes like damaging a copy of the qu'ran.

What is all the fuss about?  You won't find a copy of this cartoon on the politically correct pages of the BBC.  There is no doubt that the picture is designed to be inflammatory but it does need to be seen, not censored.

Charlie Hebdo magazine's controversial cover, featuring the latest Mohamed cartoon to hit the news.
Charlie Hebdo magazine's controversial cover,
featuring the latest Mohamed cartoon to hit the news.

Whether you think it is funny or not, one thing is certain in my mind.  Radical and violent Islamism needs to be mocked.  We must not stand for censorship in our own countries because some other culture doesn't like what we say.  What do you do when a three year old child has a temper tantrum?  Certainly you shouldn't change your actions because  of their irrational actions, so what is the difference here?

I'll be in Paris for a few days of the next week.  I might try to buy a copy of the magazine, because I do believe that satire must do everything that it can and that it is time for the Islamists just to grow up.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

'And there is no health in us'? Ridiculous!

For all these years, at every Holy Eucharist and every Sunday, the same words have come from the mouths of Anglicans (and others):

“Almighty and most merciful Father;
We have erred,
and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against Thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.

But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare Thou those, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore Thou those who are penitent;
According to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake;
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of Thy holy Name.

I venture to suggest that most of them have never thought carefully enough about what the words mean, what the devices and desires of their hearts might have been.  How many have taken the time to decide whether they agree with them.  'And there is no health in us' is one of the most utterly ridiculous things that you ever hear Christians saying too.

For Anglicans this General Confession is the substitute for attending confession with the priest, which let's face it, is an even more peculiar tradition.

I'm sure that the concept of confession originates from the opportunity to (effectively, if not literally) blackmail the penitent.  Even if not deliberately and fraudulently demanding money, I'm sure that the tradition persuades people into being more compliant and perhaps paying a little contribution towards the cause of the church.  For centuries this was literally in the form of 'indulgences', and at least that particular manifestation has stopped.  Scientologists seem to take the concept even further, and I've heard stories of literal blackmail being used when people attempt to leave that particular cult.

Perhaps we need to work on a modern replacement.

Without requiring supernatural intervention and according to the law of the land, we all need to get off our knees to work constructively and enjoy life without hurting others.   Sometimes we fail; sometimes we forget; but we make the best of what life we have, and we endeavour to remain positive.

Since many of us do not trust the promises of any invisible friend in the sky, for all our sakes, surely it is our duty as citizens of the world to support each other to resist the religious strangle-hold on society.  Let's campaign for a rational and secular life in the name of reason and science, and not tolerate interference from those self-confessedly grovelling, miserable but penitent Christians who claim that all good works come from their particular god.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

What does an atom REALLY look like?

From and enthusiastic presenter, here's a lesson in atomic physics that anyone can enjoy.

Tooth hurty

One of my staff came into the office this morning to tell me that he has to go to the dentist tomorrow at half-past-two.  If I tell you that he is British through and through, and is a native English speaker but his ethnicity is Chinese, you might understand why I found myself laughing.  (It is not that I'm not being a racist.) 

I'm just surprised that he looked unusually bewildered.  Normally he's way ahead of me when it comes to quick wits.

Apparently he had never heard that classic old schoolboy joke that used to be a favorite of my father's.

What time does a Chinese man go to the dentist?

I have been chucking to myself about it all day!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Mad Cow Juice

In London on Saturday lunchtime I found a shop that sold the sorts of things that you need for a picnic, and then went to choose a drink.

Along with the vast array of sweet and fizzy stuff in the refrigerator, there was a choice of bottled waters (from around the world), and there was milk.

Milk cheaper than water?  Deranged!
Milk cheaper than water?  Deranged!
Imagine my surprise when I realised that a bottle of water cost over a pound, and a similar size bottle of milk cost just 60p.

Now you can see why UK farmers are complaining about lack of revenue.  Milk can't possibly be cheaper to produce than water - not in England at least!

I sympathise,  The world is just mad!

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Pod Delusion's birthday party

Welcome to Conway Hall, in London, home of the South Place Ethical Society.  From the outside the building looks like a small non-conformist church.  'Tardis-like', it seems to be much bigger inside than out.  Over the stage is the slogan "To Thine Own Self be True".

Conway Hall - for the Pod Delusion's 3rd birthday party.
Conway Hall - for the Pod Delusion's birthday party.

After the march for a secular Europe, it was quite a short walk to Red Lion Square to reach the venue for a 'birthday party'.  The Pod Delusion has gathered a good audience these days, and a couple of hundred of us were in London to attend the live event.  I joked to one of the organisers of the march that he should have extended it to reach Conway Hall, because so many of the people had ended up here after finding suitable 'refreshments' along the way.

We were told that there would be an opportunity for questions after each segment, and threatened with James O'Malley's holiday photos if we were not able to fill the time available.  A lively participative audience ensured that there was little risk of that happening, but he wasn't able to resist the temptation to tell us a 'programmer's joke'  

A Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) consultant walked into a bar . . .pub . . tavern . . . inn . . .

Ha ha! The first half of the event got off to a good start.  Liz Lutgendorf gave us an entertaining history of Conway Hall.  Then Guardian Blogger Martin Robbins explained "Why The Daily Mail Is Evil!".  This really was the low point of the event.  Much as I love to ridicule 'The Daily Fail,' any attempt to rouse to audience to chant anything about the miserable rag was embarrassingly pathetic.  Bad form Robbins!  And to be honest, all your ranting about Suri Cruz might have been a good point but it was just boring.

Then Drew Rae offered us a "Risk Assessment for the Apocalypse!" (in which he committed the classic risk assessor's faux pas of confusing a hazard and a risk) and fire scientist Claire Benson (@pyroclaire) managed not to burn down Conway Hall with an interesting demonstration of spectroscopy! (I'm not completely convinced that a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher is the appropriate one for a methylated spirits fire.  Fortunately Liz didn't have to use it.)

After the interval things got even better.  Deborah Hyde (aka Jourdemayne, author of Jourdemayne's blog and Editor of the Skeptic Magazine) got us off to a really good start with "Psychology of the Supernatural!", including an explanation of the origin of the meme of driving a stake through the heart of a vampire.  Deborah was THE star of the show. 

@KateRussell then gave us some interesting insights about the growth of the internet, with a warning to bloggers to avoid making unnecessary links to unindexable, data-hungry, subterfuge-laden and often unreliable infographics.  (Or at least, remember to use the no-follow tag if you must make a link, ensuring that the subterfuge of the SEO-savvy authors is defeated).

Alom Shaha's 'magic show' kept us entertained for a while too.  It isn't completely obvious that he would make it as a professional magician, but he could get away with doing kids parties . . . and birthday parties for us 'adult-kids'.  (I would warn him that the eight year old grandson of my friend in the audience possesses his eight-of-clubs trick!  As if he doesn't already know that.)  The main point was that he is a great speaker and has an enviable sense of humour and he entertained the audience, using technology as well as 'conventional' magical props.  The greatest shame was that he had a bottle of white wine for one of the tricks.  Why?  Because there was no white wine left at the bar in the interval and I would have enjoyed a glass of it!

Helen Arney, whose 'Voice of an Angle' joke was hardly noticed by the majority, then completed the evening very nicely.

After the March for a Secular Europe in the afternoon, this was the conclusion of a great day out.  I'm looking forward to the fourth birthday party, and hoping to help The Pod Delusion out with a feature about Fusion in the next year.  More on that another day.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Thoughts about the Secular Europe march

Yesterday's March for a Secular Europe went ahead successfully and finished up with a rally featuring a number of great speakers.  Most notable from my point of view were Sue Cox, Peter Tatchell, Terry Sanderson, Robin Ince and Chris French, but the efforts of the others can not be denied.

Reflecting on the day's events I'm left with a number of potentially opposing thoughts.

First, I wondered about the choice of route.  I assume that it was the best of the options available, but compared with last year's event it seemed second class.  Granted it started off near Parliament, but it ended up in an obscure little road where nobody could have noticed that a rally was even taking place.  Last year's rally was in full view of the end of Downing St.

The rally at the end of the March for a Secular Europe 2012, London.
The rally at the end of the March for a Secular Europe.

It was a shame that so few people attended.  We must have numbered only about 1000.  It is hardly enough to be noticed in a city where there is a protest march almost every day.  How do I know this?  I asked one of the policemen whether this was a regular weekly event for them.  He said that it was more like daily at the moment, since the end of the Olympics.  He also volunteered that not many of them were as polite and well behaved as this one.  (Corollary - well done to all of us for behaving well but polite and well behaved marches don't really get noticed at all.  I'm not complaining - just saying.)

Secular Europe 2012 - Peter Tatchell - powerful and natural orator.
Peter Tatchell - powerful and natural orator.

Then I was left wondering what we were actually marching about, having tried to explain it to someone on the train home.  I felt that I hadn't been very convincing.  I know what it says on the website and I should point out clearly that I agree with all the issues.  However, the recent furore over Atheism+ where the antagonists are discussing what qualifications are strictly necessary in addition to atheism leads me to ask a similar question about secularism.  What exactly do women's rights and gay rights have to do with a desire for a secular Europe?  Certainly they should emerge naturally from a fair secular government, but I wonder whether their inclusion might confuse the message slightly.  On the other hand, their inclusion clearly boosted the number of attendees, and Tatchell's oratory power without the use of notes definitely enhanced the experience.

2012 Secular Europe March - humour and dedication
The spirit of the march!

Having been a little too open about my doubts and inviting your comments on the matters, I'll reiterate that it was a really great way to spend a sunny afternoon with a lot of lovely, well-intentioned, like-minded people.  I conclude with two of Robin Ince's humorous but deep insights.  When asked how you can have morality without God, he said that he wondered, in the case of certain of the churches:

"How can you have so LITTLE morality WITH God?"

and an interesting observation that

"Nowadays, if you think about it, it is the racists who are oppressed!" 


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Marching for a secular Europe

Secular Europe march, London 2012
On the march near Parliament today

More about the march later this evening or tomorrow.  Next stop, the Pod Delusion's birthday party!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Meeting faith halfway - yeah right!

This week the BBC screened a programme called "Rosh Hashanah", in which the UK's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, interviewed three prominent scientists to discuss whether there really has to be antagonism between science and faith.  By the end he claimed that his three victims had met him more than half way.

The views of the scientists on this conclusion were not revealed.  Let's examine why I felt that Sacks was being more than usually - or should I say "much more than usually" - disingenuous.

The whole setting the the 30 minute programme was polished and carefully crafted to show Sacks as a reasonable man who was calm and rational, at peace with his view of the world.  It was equally well crafted to make the three scientists look just slightly uneasy, somewhat flushed and perhaps a little shifty.  That in itself was enough to convince me that the odds were stacked in favour of the rabbi.

Jonathan Sacks, acting like a wolf in sheep's clothing, debating Dawkins, Al-Khalil and Greenfield.
Jonathan Sacks, acting like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Then there was a suggestion of cherry picking from the answers that his interviewees must have given.  I haven't seen any responses from Susan Greenfield, Jim Al-Khalili or Richard Dawkins to claim that they were specifically misrepresented, but somehow I can't imagine that what we saw was exactly what they must have meant.

Taking one example, Sacks asked Dawkins about the 'philosophy of Darwinism' and we heard what appeared to be Dawkins agreeing that it was possible that this could actually lead to Nazism.  Two things were surprising here.  First I know I have heard Dawkins arguing that the two are not causally linked.

Second - what exactly is 'the philosophy of Darwinism'?  Is it implied that scientists or Nazis might be adherents of such a philosophy, even if it existed? Surely it is not a philosophy at all.  Darwin's work has led to a scientific theory and that is all.  There is no way that this implies the requirement for any further human actions.

It seemed to me that Sacks tended to use his language of faith to dress up both sides of the story to make them seem compatible, when we all know that faith only claims that because it recognises the threat from science.  He also used his great rhetorical skill to sidestep the difficult questions like "Do you believe that Abraham literally had Isaac trussed up on an alter?".  Sacks just resorted to typical allegorical answers to avoid answering.  He seemed to claim that the story of Isaac showed that Jewish people care much more for their children much more than anyone else. [Besides that, Jewish parents care so much that they need to cut bits off their precious babies.]  He could only get away with this in any small way by comparing his race with the surrounding races during the bronze age.  I would say that this argument has passed its sell-by date.

Then whenever he admitted that religion had been the cause of suffering in the world he would also point out that science had also caused great problems. 

NO!  This is not the same at all.  Faith has actually CAUSED great evil, very often in its own name.  Science, on the other hand, has only enabled greater evils than previously possible to be committed by people of any faith or none.  His apparently reasonable argument of equality is palpably fallacious.

This programme is just another case of BBC accommodationalism for the usual reasons.

It would be interesting to hear the views of a few people of faith, if they managed to see it. 

One good thing came out of it though.  A Muslim colleague told me today that until he watched this programme he hadn't realised what a reasonable man Richard Dawkins appears to be.

 That's something, at least!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

IronEE telecoms

I might have mentioned that I recently changed mobile phone network from the well known T-Mobile to a new and thriving, community led, network called GiffGaff.  I like 'community led' technology and hence Linux is my computer operating system of choice too.

And the result is that the change was definitely a good move.  T-Mobile had massively increased their tariffs recently and over the years had gradually eroded my feeling of good will.

Having spent a few days in Paris recently, I was amazed how little it cost me to use the phone so often, even though at international rates. But the point of this post is not so much to praise Giffgaff as to ridicule my former network.  I haven't yet converted all the family from their clutches.  I had to top up the credit on another phone tonight.  What I found was briefly interesting, and quite quickly risible.

In what appears to be the beginning of a major rebranding exercise, Orange and T-Mobile are now going to call themselves Everything Everywhere Ltd (UK), or EE for short.  Taking the name literally, one might expect more than appears to be on offer.

Given that I anticipate a lot of visits and calls to Paris over the next 3 years, for just the briefest moment I wondered whether EE was going to fill that huge and obvious gap in European telecoms, by providing a network that treats the whole EU as a single entity.  By doing that they could make it so easy for EU citizens to travel freely between countries without paying exorbitant prices for accidentally straying to a roaming network.  I've noticed this happening tens of miles from a border in some cases.  It must be annoying to live in an area where a local call accidentally becomes international.

Too good to be true?  Indeed yes.

Apparently and ironically, 'Everywhere' is not an area as big as you might expect.  Just the other side of the English Channel, France is presumably 'Nowhere'  in the eyes of EE, as any 'Somewhere' would surely be included in 'Everywhere'.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Visit London - this Saturday

Every Saturday there are 'events' in London, capital city of the UK, but this Saturday, 15th September 2012, there are two that I plan to attend.

First there is the March for a Secular Europe.  I went last year and this year we are hoping that even more people will attend.  If you have never been on a protest march then I can only recommend the experience.  London is accustomed to them and there is little fuss.  This one in particular will be good natured, and may be attended by religious and non-religious people alike.  At the end of the march there will be a rally, with a number of great speakers, including:
  • Robin Ince, Comedian and BHA Distinguished Supporter
  • Chris French, Skeptic and Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths University
  • Warren Ellis, Writer and BHA Distinguished Supporter
  • Peter Tatchell, Human Rights Campaigner
  • Joan Smith, Journalist
  • Mejindarpal Kaur, Legal Director, United Sikhs 
  • Richard Norman, Philosopher
  • Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, British Humanist Association
  • Terry Sanderson, President, National Secular Society
  • Antony Lempert, Secular Medical Forum Chair
  • Adam Knowles, Gay And Lesbian Humanist Association
  • Nahla Mahmood, Council of ex-Muslims of Britain and One law for All
  • Sue Cox, Survivors Voice Europe
  • Maurizio Turco MP, Italian Radicals
See more details here.  No tickets needed - just turn up in your thousands.

Then in the evening, there is the Big 3rd Birthday Do, in Conway Hall.  This has been organised by The Pod Delusion, which is surely one of the best secular and skeptical podcasts around.  Speakers include:
  • Kate Russell from BBC Click
  • Young Atheist Handbook Author Alom Shaha – not talking about his book, but performing some MAGIC.
  • Guardian Blogger Martin Robbins on Why The Daily Mail Is Evil!
  • Pod Delusion regular Drew Rae offering us some Risk Assessment for the Apocalypse!
  • ‘Skeptic’ Magazine editor Deborah Hyde on the Psychology of the Supernatural!
  • and fire scientist Claire Benson – who hopefully won’t be burning down Conway Hall!
  • …with MORE to be announced! 
This promises to be an entertaining day.  Anyone else coming?  You could still get tickets when I last checked.

Incidentally, Saturday 22nd should be just as good. The National Secular Society's conference keynote speaker is Richard Dawkins.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Hitchens 'Mortality'

A month or two ago I pre-ordered Christopher Hitchens' last book, Mortality, with a little trepidation.  I didn't really want to read the dying words of a great orator and writer, but nor did I want to miss any of the things that he had to say.

A few days ago, my copy of this giant little book arrived, and today I have finished reading it, leaving me feeling . . . I'm not sure how.  It is only 104 pages long but it is packed with insights into his life in Tumortown, as he called it.

Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens
by Christopher Hitchens

It is a little fragmentary, sometimes repetitive and even trivially inconsistent, (e.g. Tumortown being renamed Tumorville).  But considering the huge difficulties he experienced with communication while undergoing treatment for his cancer, I find it amazing that it makes such sense  I can't aspire to be half the writer that he was, even when he was in this weakened state.

The final chapter containing his own words was a collection of fragmentary jottings.  Perhaps my favorite was:

Now so many tributes that it also seems that rumours of my LIFE have also been greatly exaggerated.  Lived to see most of what is going to be written about me: this too is exhilarating but hits diminishing returns when I realize how soon it, too, will be "background".

and I also like this one

If I convert it's because it's better that a believer dies than that an atheist does.

The final chapter is written by his wife, Carol Blue.  I couldn't read that again.  I recognised the first few paragraphs from an article I read recently online.  It is odd that such glowing, affectionate and passionate words made me feel a bit melancholy.

If you admired the man, you should read this book.

Monday, 10 September 2012

What is the colour of jealousy anyway?

Can omnipotent God make a stone so heavy that it is impossible for him to lift it?

Questions like that one are obvious nonsense.  It is like asking "What is the colour of jealousy?"  Richard Dawkins likes to use that question to answer some of the non-questions that theists ask him in order to try to trip up rational thinkers.

Some questions simply can't be answered, and just because they can be phrased semantically does not mean that they are meaningful questions.

Envy is green - not jealousy!

Incidentally, "Green" is not a good answer.  Can't you tell the difference between envy and jealousy?  Anyway it was only ever a metaphor, and metaphors are second only to analogies in the search for the truth.  They might be useful teaching aids but they are rarely true.

To use another example, you might just as well as 'what is the colour of Middle C'?

What is the colour of Middle C?  (Picture from here)

Synesthetes might be able to give you an answer.  They mix up the senses and some of them really do taste colours and smell sounds and even see musical notes as colours.  I doubt you would get a consistent answer from a group of them though.

Atheism Plus - I'll pass too

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Things Chrisitans say, part 32: Arrogant and offensive

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

I can't believe that you are so arrogant (or offensive)


I was listening to a discussion on the radio a couple of weeks ago.  One of the interviewees expressed her honest beliefs about the topic and the other claimed to have empirical evidence to the contrary.  The topic was not religion, and you can read more about it here, but in a minute you might see a parallel.

Discussing this matter a bit later with (as it happens) a Christian, I was told that the guy with empirical evidence was just arrogant, and that by the very process of offering this evidence (which he never actually had chance to present) he had essentially lost the argument.  He was the politest of the three people involved, and allowed his arguments to be shouted down before he made his point. 

At the time I was surprised to hear this point of view but then I realised what was going on.

Does this seem familiar?  It seems to me to be like the war between science and religion.  Some people trust evidence.  Others trust heartfelt emotion and well wielded rhetoric and call people arrogant if they disagree.

Christians might claim to be in the former category but I suggest that it doesn't work out that way very often.



What would you call someone who uses a logical argument that you can't defeat?

If I were a Christian, I would call them 'an atheist'.  There is no need for any pejorative adjectives.

Last week:  To be an atheist you would have to go everywhere in the universe and search for god and not find him to really be sure that there is no god.
Next week:  You're not really an atheist!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The story of Atheism+ - Part 2

Following on from yesterday's Part 1, this is a continuation of some of the views opposing Atheism+.
Here, 'Hayesenberg' gives a shorter, less thorough, but very poignant attack on Richard Carrier's diatribe.

He rightly points out the lack of individualism in Atheism+ policies.

Then 'theskepticalheretic'

talks about Thunderfoot's (non-)involvement and brings clarity to the definition of atheism, and its lack of status as a 'group'.  The whole business of "you're with us or against us" comes under the spotlight.

Noelplum99 has a good go at Atheism+ at this link, and CardinalVirtues here

For what initially appears to be an opposing viewpoint, here's Matt Dillahunty in a video that some people claim to be in support of A+.  That would be worrying, but watch it and decide for yourself.

What have you decided?  He speaks well about the ideas but seems not to have completely realised the utterly radical views expressed by Richard Carrier.

Matt says that he has been A+ for years. Although he says that he agrees, he sensibly says that no member of his atheist organisation is actually required to agree.

So you have to choose between Carrier's and Dillahunty's approach. Dillahunty is sensible but on that basis it seems unlikely that he will be included by Carrier. Unlike Carrier, he is happy that other people can hold opinions that are not identical to his own.

It is obvious that I agree with Dillahunty. His skepticism is more important than his atheism, and indeed is the cause of his atheism. Without atheism he would still be a secular humanist.

And if I said that that was all there is to it ... then I would be wrong.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The story of Atheism+ - Part 1

Here are some links relating to the new saga of Atheism+, in case you did not know how it all started. I have probably missed out some critical stages, but this gives a flavour of it, at least.

For about a year there have been rumblings from a few feminists about the way that they have been treated by people - mostly, but not exclusively, men - at skeptical or atheist conferences. A Google search for Elevatorgate would give you a bit of information about a Youtube video by Rebecca Watson, and how Richard Dawkins' somewhat satirical reply, Dear Muslima, outraged some people and seemed a bit poignant to others.

In the background, people seemed to be forming lines of battle. On the one side were those who complained about their treatment, along with their supporters. On the other side there were men and women who advocated that the victims should be less sensitive, should take control of their own lives a bit more, and get a backbone.

Paula Kirby wrote a rather sensible open letter called Sisterhood of the Oppressed, which you can find linked from here.  Being a woman she was able to say some of the things that many men had been thinking but were wise enough not to say.  I think Paula has suffered from consequential vicious attacks though.

Soon after that, a blog post started a brand new and much more destructive wave - indeed tsunami.  It came from a syndicate of blogs called Freethought Blogs, often known as 'FTB'.  Jen McCreight blogged under the name Blag Hag that she had unwittingly infiltrated an alleged all boys club and that she had been ill-treated as a result. 

In itself, Jen's blog post was not unreasonable, although she might need to learn to involve the police in prosecuting people if her allegations are real.  Its a matter of law and order if someone threatens you and presumably would be sub-judice if you intended to bring a formal prosecution.

It was followed by a long and particularly boring blog post by Richard Carrier, which prompted many inflammatory and divisive comments.  I wouldn't even have known who he was unless I had an interest in the existence (or otherwise) of an historical Jesus. In response you can watch a very thorough critique of Carrier's rudeness and intolerance from CobraJones


This is quite long, but it is a great commentary of my very thoughts on reading the comments under the post by Richard Carrier.

More tomorrow in Part 2.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

An accomodating atheist

Oxford Skeptics in the Pub is back in operation after a lengthy pause, and the second event of the year, last night, featured a speaker who was the author of "The Young Atheists Handbook", Alom Shaha.

Young Atheists Handbook, Alom Shaha
Young Atheists Handbook

Alom is an ex-muslim from a Bangladeshi background, working as a physics teacher in London.  In his slightly self-effacing way, he was very comfortable with the audience, and he encouraged the event to become much more of a discussion than the normal format of a lecture with questions.  Everyone had an opportunity to join in, with a friendly, humorous and cooperative atmosphere.

He wrote the book because he found that the question of 'god' (whether God or Allah) was coming up in lessons.  He had had challenges from some religious children about topics such as the 'big-bang'.  He explained how he disliked having to answer questions with "Because it is on the syllabus" but that sometimes that was a last resort.  He was clearly comfortable with his atheism but not out to 'convert' people.  On the other hand he sees no reason to hide it.  He pointed out that it was fine for other teachers to be openly Catholic, so there is no reason why he should not be openly atheist.

His whole approach to the issue of religion was gentle and empathetic to the point that he was accused several times of being an accommodationalist.  Initially he readily admitted it, but later started to ask what exactly that meant.  However, he was at least a sophisticated accommodationalist, realising that people arrive at the beliefs for a wide variety of reasons, not all of which are rational.  He says that although he personally (and at present) does not believe in a god, he does understand why others might and he concedes that there is no way to tell whether he might in future find reasons to believe.  The whole concept that life really might be pointless is not one that everyone can buy into.  Religion can come to the rescue for some, and he argues that there is not necessarily any harm from that.

His main aim in speaking and writing is to introduce children to the very concept that some people are not religious.  He points out that many young people are simply not aware of the possibility that they can question the existence of god, whatever their parents happen to believe.

This brings us to a topic that then was thoroughly debated.  Few seemed to disagree that 'coming out' as an atheist is not equally easy for all people in all communities.  Leaving Islam or a fundamentalist christian community in USA would clearly be harder than leaving the Church of England.  It is also recognised that their are racial and ethnic differences. 

He seemed to be keen to suggest that one way to move forward is to promote secularism rather than atheism.  He noted that the word 'secular' has been hijacked by the religious, and to some extent it is now taken to mean something that is threatening to religion rather than an opportunity for freedom of religion, and from other religions.

So it seems that I agree with a vast majority of what he says and I feel sure that I could enjoy a long and friendly discussion with him.  But there are a few things that I definitely would take issue with.
  • He thoroughly dislikes many internet atheists, and their aggressive approach, and that everyone says things that others have already said as if those things have never been said before.   I agree that I also dislike the rudeness of the extremists too - both ends of the arguments.  Nevertheless I do learn things from every argument I hear.  In this case I feel more tolerant and accomodating than Alom.  I also think it is not overwhelmingly probable that he has said very much new in his book.  What is the difference?  (I admit I haven't read it, so I can't claim that for certain, and I do understand that he is getting good reviews for his narrative style.  But I would like to discuss that aspect.)
  • He maintains that there doesn't have to be a conflict between science and religion.  I'm not completely sure that is true.  The discussion can indeed be avoided, and it is even possible to skirt around the general topic in a friendly way.  But ultimately when push comes to shove, in my view, and for some people, there is a conflict.  I also think that the existence of god is a matter that science should take very seriously, because potentially it affects everything else.  [Update:  On this topic, a fellow blogger has commented about the incompatibility of science and religion, in 'Science and Faith - I beg to differ']
  • It is evident that he has had some disagreements with Richard Dawkins.  I felt that he spent a little too much time building a straw-man of Dawkins to attack.  Although empathetic to the religious, Alom seemed less empathetic to the slightly more robust atheists and tended to bundle them with the 'really aggressive' atheists, perhaps unfairly in my view.  Dawkins is by no means the most aggressive atheist in the world.  I suppose I take the view that sometimes there are times when tough things do have to be said, and I admit that I am unashamedly a fan of Richard Dawkins.

Apart from that, it was an really enjoyable evening.  He concluded that he 'did not have any solutions', and that although he had not ambition to be one of the four horsemen he thought it would be nice if he could be there on a Shetland pony.  He doesn't want to write about religion any more.  His handbook is apparently not really a handbook, but as he says, nobody minds that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is not really a guide.

Shall I buy a copy.  I can't decide, partly because I'm not sure that there will be anything new.  I have read a great deal about the subject and found most of his words refreshingly familiar.

But if you have not read much, you will learn from a nice guy with a great sense of humour, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Make no bones about it

Found on the pavement near the Hotel des Invalides in Paris last week, here is some humorous art.

Skeletons drawn on pavement in Paris, near the Hotel des Invalides.
Drawn by a skeleton staff?

Let's make no bones about it.  It's quite innovative isn't it. 

Speaking of Paris, one of the lovely people who helped last week with the task of finding an apartment spoke English beautifully.  Just one small slip amused me.  You may know that the H at the beginning of most words in French is silent, as in the English word 'honest'.

Its quite funny to hear the word 'honest' pronounced with a very-pronounced and audible Huh sound at the beginning.  I smiled to myself and wished that my French was as good as her English.

English has its own faux-amis!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The natives were friendly . . .

On a trip to eastern California a few years ago I happened across this sight.  Note the rather surprising state of the rear tyre (or should I say 'tire').

Car riddled with bullet holes
California residents must have been cross with someone!

I should say that all the people I actually met were very friendly.  Perhaps it is best not to annoy them though.

Banned from Reddit? Join the non-exclusive club.

If you use Reddit it is sometimes worth glancing at your own user page, which will be at an address like this:  (where your own username replaces 'Plasma_E')

If you get something like this,

Finding that your posts to Reddit get no responses?  You've probably been 'shadow-banned'
Finding that your posts to Reddit get no responses?
You've probably been 'shadow-banned'.

then welcome to the club!  It means that you have been 'shadow banned' as they call it.  Read more about it here and here.

They won't actually tell you about it.  It seems to be working as normal to you.  You just waste all your time contributing to a supposed 'community' administered by a bunch of tyranical non-democratic spoil-sports and all your efforts are invisible.

It seems easy to get banned, even if you post items from a wide range of sites, and even if the rules of Reddit are deliberately unclear

Tell your friends about it! 

Reddit is not all it claims.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Crucifixion+ restored

One of my Facebook friends shared this great picture, starring a few of the main protagonists in the current storm in a teacup, called 'Atheism+'.  If I knew the original source I would gladly link to it here, and I don't give a Facebook link because I don't want to intrude on my friend's privacy.

Crucifixion Plus, restored. An Atheism+ parody!
Crucifixion Plus, restored.
An Atheism+ parody!

If you can recognise all the faces then you are doing quite well.  Even if you can only pick out half of them you will be able to share in the mirth.

If you would like to know more about the topic, read this earlier post , and for the face of Jesus, see this article.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Redditing revealed - Iesvs the spoil-sport

In the last post I wrote about taking steps to help people to establish new blogs.  Something Surprising has now been running for a good while, with a new post every day, and with a dedicated band of regular followers whose comments and help I greatly appreciate.

One of the ways to help people to get traffic has always been to post their work to a link sharing site like Reddit, but it seems increasingly obvious that this is not worth the trouble.

It seems that /reddit/atheism, for example, is mostly followed by people who simply enjoy silly pictures or cartoons.  The evidence for this claim can be seen by visiting their site and looking at the links with the highest number of positive votes.  Almost none of them are worth the effort, and a few minutes of browsing is likely to make you feel quite cross.

On top of that, the moderators and admins seem to ban posts to Reddit for the strangest reasons.  It seems that it is bad form to post your own work for review by the rest of the Reddit community, even though (I believe) democracy was the original strategic aim of the site.  It is tempting to believe that many Reddit users are incapable of reading well reasoned articles by well established bloggers, and that although Reddit brings in a quantity of visits, it rarely brings in good quality readers who will join in the discussion.

Reddit has various cunning ways of blacklisting people and I wrote about this topic before in Why this might become a Reddit-free zone.  Finally, you will notice that the reddit boxes have all disappeared, from this blog.

The Reddit admins never have to give their reasons for their decisions and it is not overwhelmingly obvious that their actions are completely rational.  Even whole domains can banned for the most peculiar reasons, as you can read in this interesting article from, Reddit Reportedly Banning High-Quality Domains, exposing leaked information about reddit admins.

This domain has not yet been banned (at least at the time of writing), but frankly I won't surprised when they do ban Something Surprising for the opinions shared here.  This would be consistent, just as they banned my Reddit account for asking the following question of a redditor who has been particularly active at persecuting excellent free-thinking bloggers like Rosa Rubicondior.

So which part of this is the offence?  Is it the offence of putting the letters iesvs into a username?  I don't see why there's anything wrong with that unless you are an irrational self-centred idiot.  Or is it posting two items from the same blog?  Or is it that iesvs is a closet christian who doesn't like the views that Rosa expresses?  Or is it that /r/atheism really only likes silly pictures and not thoughtful posts?  And no I am not Rosa in another form.

Anyone even suspected of being a clone of Rosa gets immediately banned, and anyone who dares to include the characters 'iesvs' in their name gets the same treatment.

The only contributions to Reddit by a troll-like admin, Iesvs.
The only contributions to Reddit by a troll-like admin, Iesvs,
banning other users for no reason at all.

You might notice that the comment itself has been deleted from iesvs's post here where it says that there have been three comments but only two are visible.  Here's a screen shot just in case the evidence gets deleted.

Three comments?  But one is invisible. Reddit user iesvs doesn't get irony or humour!
Three comments?  But one is invisible.
So Iesvs has a great sense of humour and justice!

Besides that, if they specifically forbid people from posting their own work on the sub-reddits, why do they not simply say so and make a rule about it?

As you can see, the only contribution made by this 'iesvs' is to report other users to spammers, and since he can't cope with anyone taking the p**s I can only conclude that Iesvs is a megalomaniacal spoil-sport with no sense of humour.

Band of bloggers

Sometimes I find a blog which looks promising, but simply needs a little help getting started.  I like to encourage others to get started in this game, join the Band of Bloggers, and have explained to a few people how blogging works.

Recently I found a promising site that could become a useful resource, even though other aggregating sites (like this one) do exist already (albeit with slightly different functions).

Atheist Blogs Aggregated

has made a good start by collecting some interesting links and I suggest a quick visit for the content.   Sadly though, the quirks of the excellent Blogger software have prevented the author, Joe, from getting his rss feed links and other useful features working.

I tried to e-mail him at the address that I inferred from the text at the bottom, but eventually get a permanent failure message back.

So if anyone knows Joe, please leave a comment below and let me know how to help him out.

In the meantime I will give a shout out for some great atheist blogs (apart from this one of course) that he could add to his aggregation. 

Rosa Rubicondior
A Million Gods
Steve Zara's Posterous
Lady Atheist
Martin S Pribble 
957Chatterton Antitheism
Nuts and Reason
The Malcontent's Gambit

Click away!

Incidentally, I used to think that Reddit was a good service to help with this, but seemingly it is now being run by a bunch of tyrants who despise anyone with an opinion taking the time to write about atheism.  More on this next, in Redditing revealed - Iesvs the spoil-sport.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Things Christians say, part 31: To the ends of the universe

A weekly series of responses to the things Christians say to atheists, based on the video reproduced here on 30th January 2012.  The aim is to tackle one every weekend, to give both a moderate, polite response to each question ('Piano'), followed by a more forceful rebuttal of the same question ('Forte'). 

To be an atheist you would have to go everywhere in the universe and search for god and not find him to really be sure that there is no god.


I think there is a small matter of definition to be sorted out here.  I wonder how you define 'atheist', because I am almost sure that it is not the same way that dictionaries define it.

I think the proper definition is that an atheist is someone who does not believe in any gods (whereas agnostic is someone who does not know whether there are any gods).  One can be both agnostic and atheist.

Now if you think it means 'someone who believes that there is no god' then you still have all your work ahead of you.

Since, presumably, you actively disbelieve in all other gods than your own I believe I have you at a disadvantage, as you need to prove a great deal more than I do.



What an interesting thought.  Even if you were right about the atheist having to prove something - which you are not - somehow I have to go to the trouble of searching the whole universe to disprove something that you claim to be here and now, all the time, wherever you are.

Even if we had to prove anything, it would be sufficient to prove that God is not here, now.  That in itself is no small task, but it is a lot smaller than the one you suggest.

Why do I clam this?  Well, its easy.  Christians claim that God set up the whole of the universe so that humans could live here on Earth and that he is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient.  As many people have pointed out for the last thousand years or more, the big three O's are not even mutually consistent and compatible. (e.g. Can omnipotent God make a stone that is so heavy that he is unable to move it?)

So since there is no objective evidence for the existence of God here and now, and since he is a logically inconsistent being I think it is obvious that the burden of roof rests with the believer, and not the atheist.

Your move!

Last week:  I can't stand the idea of there being no life after death. That's why I believe in god.
Next week:  I can't believe that you are so arrogant (or offensive).