Bill Nye IS The Science Guy

Phew. Bill, we were wrong to doubt you. We thought your inexperience in debates and of creationism, your lack of background in biology or geology, and the slippery dishonesty of Ken Ham, playing to a home crowd, would cause you an embarrassment. Not a bit of it.

You were superb. You stayed on message, you remained polite throughout, you were respectful of differing beliefs, and your natural charisma were too much for the nervous, repetitive and increasingly defensive Ham. The presentation of facts, pitched just right for the layman, was a continuous assault, not just on your opponent, but on the audience’s preconceptions of what science is, distorted as those are by creationism.

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You want respect? Earn it.

Whinging, finger-pointing whataboutery like this article is why unionism no longer gets any respect.

The unionists of Newtownabbey council were rightly castigated for their attempts to censor The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, not just by nationalists, but by nearly everyone – other Christians, unbelievers like myself, nationalists, embarrassed unionists, and people that don’t care much either way, who are sick and tired of everything getting put in tribal context, with this article as yet another exhibit.

If all nationalists have to do is hold up a mirror to make unionist representatives look bad, then you need better representatives.

In response to:

Ridicule is a Freedom of Expression: The LSESU Freshers’ (Af)Fayre

I’ve been following the fiasco surrounding The London School of Economics Freshers’ Fayre (sic) where a heavy-handed Students’ Union, under the influence of the Union’s Islamic society, has ejected members of the Atheist society for wearing mildly satirical T-shirts.

The account of the first day’s events begin as follows:

On Thursday 3rd of October, we (Abishek Phadnis and Chris Moos) were at the LSESU Freshers’ Fair, manning the stall of the LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to meet other non-believing students. At around noon, we were approached by LSESU Community and Welfare Officer Anneessa Mahmood, Anti-Racism Officer Rayhan Uddin, and Deputy Chief Executive Jarlath O’Hara and several others who identified as LSESU staff.

Without explanation, Anneessa Mahmood started removing material from the stall. When challenged, she claimed that it was “offensive”.

This directly contradicts the LSESU’s own account:

The SU asked the students to cover the t-shirts in the interests of good campus relations. The society remained free to share their literature and views. Continue reading

“Dear Google: So long, and thanks for all the phish”

For a few days now, revelation after revelation has been breaking about the NSA’s secret internet snooping system, Prism, primarily via Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.

Reactions have ranged from “It’s a misunderstanding” to “Obama should be impeached“.

My own is one of betrayal; these last few years, I’ve become something of a Google fanboy – I use most of their major online services and quite a few of their applications. I own an Android phone. I switched from using POP3 mail to Gmail. And now, I find they’ve granted free reign to the NSA to rifle through the email of unsuspecting users. It truly is Orwellian – Big Brother is watching me.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin;

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”

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The Highest Form of Respect

In the ongoing tussle of competing ideas, be they on the axes of conservative/liberal, theist/atheist, secular/theocratic, capitalist/socialist, the word respect, or commentary on the pronounced lack of it, is bandied about a lot in this internet age.

I’ve not minced my words on this blog – an oft-used quote, attributed to Evelyn Beatrice Hall in her biography of Voltaire, sums up my position.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”

A frequent reflex defence of, say, Christian apologists, is that criticism of their position is an attempt to silence them. This is of course nonsense – free speech in the secular West guarantees both their right to public opinions just as it guarantees the right to criticise them. To curb the former is totalitarianism, to curb the latter is enforcement of blasphemy.

Similarly, apologists will claim a lack of respect in criticism. Sometimes this is true, but if the discussion can remain civil, I would counter that the critic is paying them the highest form of respect i.e.

I can think of no higher compliment, than to care about someone’s opinion enough to want to change it if you think it wrong.

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The Null Hypothesis: A rational basis for scepticism

This was posted as a response to this blog, Raised by ‘Theological Conspiracy Theorists’: How I Lost my Faith, concerning a former Young Earth Creationist who lost her faith due to uncovering the absurd lies that movement makes about reality. The author betrayed signs of missing religion – understandable, given her whole life has been steeped in it. I attempted to give some advice on how to stay the course and accept her scepticism (I used the American spelling below in view of the audience). The last line was thrown in because the likelihood is the author was hanging on to faith for emotional and moral, not intellectual, reasons.

Subsequent responses are reproduced from with kind permission by Tyler Francke.


“I’m only just starting to claw my way out of deep, angry skepticism back toward religion in general.”

Why not try calm, rational skepticism? Religion has lied to you once, and so it’s quite possible it’ll continue to lie to you.

While YEC is absurdly wrong, take a look at the truth claims even ‘mainstream’ religion makes. Cutting right to the heart of the matter, let’s examine the resurrection. Note that in science, when making a null hypothesis, we use the most likely answer, then attempt to disprove it.

Thus, in order of increasing likelihood, the resurrection was:

1) Jesus rising from the dead by divine intervention,

2) Jesus arising from the dead due to being an alien, or use of alien technology,

3) Someone made it all up, because no religious figure worth his salt in those days didn’t have a resurrection myth e.g. Osiris, Mithras etc.

Dispassionately examine the evidence for this and then decide which is the most likely answer.

It’s perfectly possible to live a fulfilled, moral and loving life without a trace of religious observance. We are a moral species, it comes from within.

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The Good Wife: Atheism on American TV

I’m a fan of The Good Wife, an American legal procedural drama that delves into law and politics in Illinois. I was catching up with the latest series showing in the UK (a few months behind the USA) and the lead character, Alicia Florrick, played by the lovely Juliana Margulies (most famously known for her ER role) finally ‘came out’ as an atheist, when her husband’s political team tried to score points by exposing an opponent as the same.

I had a look around on the internet, and sure enough, there was quite a reaction in USA to this apparent non-event. I found this article, So much for St. Alicia: The Good Wife and Atheism, on a religiously focused website – the article itself is balanced, however the comments below it were not. I responded as follows, though I repost it here should it not make it through moderation.

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Death, loss and unbelief in the afterlife

Death. It’s awfully final, isn’t it?

It’s something that those with belief grapple with, but take solace in their promise of an afterlife. However, it seems to be a problem for some unbelievers. For example, in a debate hosted by Cambridge Student Union, the motion “Religion has no place in the 21st Century” was defeated on the strength of the contribution of Douglas Murray, an atheist, with arguments he restated in The Spectator:

“We do not have many vessels for truth-carrying in our age. While of course not being an organised body of thought, atheism might one day speak to all those things religion once answered. But at present its voice is faint. It is faint on human suffering and tragedy. And although it does not have nothing to say, it barely speaks about death. It has little if not nothing to say about human forgiveness, remorse, regret or reconciliation.These are not small ellipses. Until atheism can speak into these voids, desiring to ban religion entirely seems a push not only to deprive individuals of a consolation at which Professor Dawkins scoffs — though he would do better to address it — but also to strip many discussions of profound dimensions.”

I was enraged by this because this is not the domain of atheism; atheism concerns belief in deities, and nothing else. It is not a religion, philosophy or belief system, only a conclusion, so to represent it as a direct replacement of religion is a gross mistake. Questions about death, loss and grief are more the domain of secular humanism, the most common philosophical position adopted by Western atheists, and indeed Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association would have had much to say on this, had he not spoken first. (Edit: Andrew pointed me towards a response he wrote afterwards.) Continue reading

Northern Ireland no longer painted in black and white

This comment was originally posted in response to a critical letter in the Belfast Newsletter of the Belfast peace rally held on 16th December 2012, which I attended, by an apologist for the #fleg protests that plagued Northern Ireland at the end of 2012, and at the time of writing, have resumed in 2013.

Unionist and Nationalist. Protestant and Catholic. Black and White.

As much as it suits the simple mental faculties of the letter author, N. Ireland is no longer drawn up on these petty, tribalistic lines.

The people at this event were of all faiths and none. Many are very well aware of the issues of N.Ireland, all are sick of the continuing pettiness of our politicians.

I was interviewed by a radio journalist from Berlin. I got across two points – that the yobs blocking traffic in the streets embarrassed us all, and that the economic damage of these protests will make N.Ireland’s financial plight that much more severe.

The 2011 census results show a growing sense of ‘Northern Irishness’, and the Belfast Agreement has made the union as secure as it has ever been – the chances of two referenda both favouring Irish unity is receding fast, for very sensible economic reasons. The only threat to the union is to make N.Ireland such an unappealing member of the UK that the rest of the UK cuts us loose.

A state that embarrasses the UK in the world media and costs them a fortune is a prime candidate. For that reason, these senseless protests do more to harm our place in the union than Sinn Fein ever can.