Atheism could do without the naturalistic fallacy

Baby

An atheist yesterday?

I hear a lot of atheists laying into religion (well, duh), making the claim that atheism is the natural default we’re born with, and religion only exists because people are indoctrinated to believe it. I like that idea, and it rings true on several levels. We find it so easy to bring children up believing religious doctrines that are wild guesses at best. And we teach them these things as fact, not only introducing fables but loading them with emotional significance to ensure that they aren’t easily challenged and dismissed.

Unfortunately, this belief in “default atheism” is simplistic at best. Babies and small children don’t have any kind of comprehensive answer to major life questions, but I think the early tendency to see one’s parents as perfect, infallible paragons can fit into the most basic definition of theism without too much squeezing and breathing in. And even adults with no interest in religion can still be led down a theistic line of thought by a certain stirring at the wonders of nature, for example. Read More…

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Creationists are the dung beetles of science

CreationReading that title back, it sounds rude and abrasive, but it isn’t meant to be. In fact, quite the reverse. In the wake of the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Young Earth Creationists (YECs), typically from a highly negative viewpoint. Columnists and bloggers despair of the distortions of leaders, the ignorance of followers, and the special pleading of a nakedly religious claim being presented as science.

I agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I’d say the same myself all the time if it wasn’t so blindingly obvious. But despite all this criticism, and although YECs are reality-denying ideologues who are either dishonest, indoctrinated or just too lazy to check out the evidence, they do serve a purpose. If you can forget about all the lying, distortion and fabrication – and it’s a big “if” – there’s a tiny glimmer of something valuable buried deep in the bowels of YECism, something we should all appreciate. Unlikely as it may seem, they do perform a genuine scientific function.
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Who’s your ugly friend, Justin?

Justin WelbyI used to think that it was just a student cliché to go on the pull with an ugly friend to make yourself seem more attractive in comparison. But it seems that Justin Welby’s pulling the same trick on behalf of the Church of England, during his tour of Africa, standing next to outrageous homophobes to invite flattering comparisons.

Let’s be clear – despite occasional flashes of self-awareness and a few woolly compromises, the CofE is no friend to gay people. Even last year’s Pilling Report, the latest in a long history of attempts to restate the church’s position on sexuality in more palatable terms, makes that starkly obvious. More on that another time, perhaps. But despite that, they end up looking like the rational, tolerant ones. Read More…

Advert decision appealed by bigots on grounds of popularity

You wouldn’t think it possible that anyone could object to the introduction of a policy on the grounds that some people might support it, but that’s the view of Christian charity and kneejerking busybodies The Core Issues Trust. They object to the rejection of their offensive bus advert (below) on the grounds that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, may have hoped to win votes from the ban. Um, yeah.

Core Issues Trust Advert

To be fair to them (and this does cause me a great deal of pain, seeing that they are strongly into the “gay cure” therapy that’s even being rejected by fellow conservative wingnuts), it does appear that Boris attempted to make political capital out of the decision in a rather crude way. It’s also possible that he acted improperly in interfering with the decision-making process. So Boris is still a self-serving prat, but even stopped clocks can be right twice a day.

What makes this appeal futile for all purposes other than publicity and stirring up the tired old “persecuted Christians” narrative is that whatever the decision, Transport for London will still have the right to refuse the advert, and almost certainly will on the very reasonable grounds of offensiveness and discrimination against a protected characteristic. This advert, targeted at gay people, simply asserts that sexuality is chosen, implying that anyone who chooses the “wrong” option should not expect to be treated with dignity.

At this point, you can just imagine the bigots chiming in and screaming that it’s not fair, because “they” (i.e. Stonewall) got to put their advert up. In fact, you don’t need to imagine it, because here’s Andrea Minichiello Williams, never short of a few words:

In a mature democracy both sides of a debate should be heard but it seems that Boris Johnson, Transport for London and Stonewall are intent to shut down the Christian side of the debate by fair means or foul.

Do you see where she’s going wrong here? Well, there’s the implication of a massive conspiracy between BoJo, TfL and Stonewall – I’m dying to know what secret bunker they meet in – as well as the idea that there’s a debate, as opposed to a few fanatics peddling “cure” treatments which are not only unproven (to be generous) but actively damaging, and the prejudging of the case before the court right now. But that’s not all. Have a look at Stonewall’s advert:

Stonewall Bus

The observant among you may have noticed a significant difference between this and the Core Issues Trust effort. Stonewall’s advert essentially says “This is just who we are, stop oppressing us” while the response amounts to “No, because you chose to be like that, so stop making such a fuss”, with a side order of “degenerate, hellbound sodomites” served as a subtext. Really, there’s no comparison.

Nor is it possible to claim that the Core Issues Trust advert is equivalent because both are by (and addressing) protected groups, either a sexuality or a religion. In one case, it’s a simple statement of fact and a plea for tolerance. In the other, it’s an assertion that might best be described as controversial, directly aimed at another group and challenging its members’ self-identification. You don’t need me to tell you which is which.

Incidentally, I do wonder at the wisdom of any media strategy which identifies your own group as being inextricably linked with the intolerant bigotry addressed by the Stonewall advert, as Andrea Minichiello Williams appears to do. But it’s also odd that they seem to be implicitly admitting that bigotry isn’t as popular as the alternative with voters, or at least that bigots are less likely to be swayed by a cheap bus-related policy gimmick.

Soon, they’ll give up on the “Christian Majority” rhetoric altogether, and spend all their time calling for protection as an oppressed minority. It’s starting already. The emptiest vessels really do make the most noise.

Images courtesy of Core Issues Trust and κύριαsity, used with permission

Making sense of my crazy life

StressI’ve been neglecting this blog way more than I’d like recently, due to the repeated intrusion of real life. Lots of things are going on both at home and at work, with the two of them locked in a battle for supremacy and grinding my inspiration and energy into the dirt.

This week was fairly typical of what I’m trying to deal with at the moment – a sapping day-long meeting with a lot of people who are probably going to end up deciding on my future employment; a struggle to do a week’s work in three days while additional tasks are thrown my way because I made the tactical error of being competent; and finally, a sudden request for an early morning radio interview relating to the thing that’s occupying most of my home life, ahead of another potentially career-defining day. Read More…

They always come in threes

It’s been a good week for bigot-spotters. First, we had Vladimir Putin saying that gay people could come to the Olympics just as long as they didn’t give Russian children the gay. Apparently, just a word of affection for a member of the same sex is liable to set off an epidemic of homosexuality throughout the country – won’t someone ban this sick filth!!!

Then Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni blocked legislation to introduce life imprisonment for homosexuality, because there were better ways of dealing with the “abnormality”, such as killing them. Such a great ally to the cause! He also claimed that some people become homosexual for “mercenary reasons”, which might explain the apparent ease with which Russian children can be turned. Read More…

Bill Nye takes on Ken Ham – I hope he knows what he’s doing

Ken HamWow, you turn your back for a moment and look what happens – Bill Nye “The Science Guy” is apparently slated to debate with Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis, Young-Earth Creationist and notorious reality-denier, and tickets have already sold out. My respect for Nye is nearly as great as my contempt for Ham, but this worries me immensely.

AiG’s press release gives a very strong impression of how Ham intends to approach this – there’s already a strong element of bait and switch in there, with the grandiose (and breathtakingly inaccurate) claim that “observational science confirms the scientific accuracy of the Genesis account of origins, not evolution”, while the actual topic of the debate is much narrower, allowing plenty of room for handwaving and flannel in the face of such underhand tactics as evidence. Read More…

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