Category Archives: Reason and argument

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

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Faith in Secular Education : How faith schools are the anti-thesis of secularism

This is adapted from an argument with a Christian that secularism precluded faith schools from state sponsorship, were he defined secularism as:

“But I also say that its not the job of government to promote one form of education (non religious) over all others. The government should provide the funding for whatever kind of education parents want”

- and that’s fine as your opinion, but it is not, and never will be, secularism – it is multi-culturalism, and there’s a world of difference.

Let me illustrate the problem – let’s say the system remains were the faith of the majority is the faith of choice in schools. In 30 years time, your grandchild is attending class in the nearest school – in the interim, Christianity has dwindled to almost nothing and Islam is now the dominant religion.

In the middle of her first class, the teacher stops, indicates the time, points the direction to Mecca and directs students to take out their prayer mats, and they dutifully do…apart from your grandchild, looking lost and bewildered. She sits somewhere else while the other students complete their prayers.

Later that day, the child tells her grandad what happened, and explains how uncomfortable and isolated she felt, effectively being excluded from a class activity which came about because of your own conditions. The child indicates an interest in Islam, wanting to feel more included and involved with her classmates.

Now do you see the problem? Continue reading

Betrayal of Trust : The National Trust promotes Young Earth Creationism

I’ve not been blogging much recently, as I’ve been rather busy with this – I just wanted to let you know that the campaign to remove a creationist display from the Giant’s Causeway Interpretive Centre is ongoing, and want to keep it in the public eye to shame the National Trust into removing it. A review of the current situation is available here on our group. We’d appreciate your support!

The National Trust are currently in a state of review (and some would say, denial) of the offending exhibit. Meanwhile, they have abdicated their responsibility as a public educator by allowing it to remain in place. The exhibit states “Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth was created some 6000 years ago” and “This debate continues today for some people, who have an understanding of the formation of the earth which is different from that of current mainstream science”. There is no ‘mainstream’ science and ‘fringe’ science, only science and non-science (or ‘nonsense’ for short).

Not only is this a stain on the National Trust’s reputation as a public educator, but it is an embarrassment to Northern Irish citizens and most Christians (the tract states this viewpoint is Biblically derived).

Details of the offending exhibit are on our ‘About’ page, including an audio recording that amounts to an advertisement for Young Earth Creationism, the only religious view to be represented in the facility. The National Trust still seem to think our complaint extends to the historical discussions, which is not so – the history of science always has a place.

What we do not accept is that the display is appropriate, representative, or possibly legal, under terms laid down in the Belfast Agreement. We are not attacking religion either; some of our most vocal group members are Christians, putting the lie to our opponents’ argument that this is a matter of science v religion. It is not. It is a matter of reality v fantasy.

This is a full review of the matter so far – feel free to join the group and add your voice to those asking the National Trust to explain themselves:

Creationism : Crushed by the burden of proof

This is a piece I put together to demonstrate the mountain of evidence creationists, and by that term I mean young Earth creationists in this article, must climb to be credible.

Why are people so dismissive of creationists? It’s for much the same reason people are dismissive of alien abductee claimants, or Illuminati conspiracy theorists; there is absolutely no supporting evidence for it, and absolutely mountains of evidence that blow it out of the water.

I’ve posted this segment several times and have yet to receive one single response to explain any facet of it, when creationism has to explain every last piece to be credible:

If you believe the Genesis account of creation is true, I have bad news for you. It isn’t. I could cite how Lord Kelvin calculated that the Earth had to cool for 20 – 40 million years minimum before it could sustain life, and how Edwin Hubble’s demonstration of the distance of the Andromeda galaxy at around 2 million light years means the Universe is at least that old (since calculated at 13.7 billion years due to the cosmic background microwave radiation) which create problems for the first ‘days’ of creation, light separating from dark etc.

And it doesn’t stop there – we know from geology not only that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old, with the first traces of life appearing at 3.5 billion years, and the first complex life around 500 million years, but that the early Earth atmosphere was anoxic (had no free oxygen) and even when chemosynthetic life appeared (using hydrogen sulphide or similar instead of light as an energy source as plants would), producing oxygen as a waste product, free iron immediately bound to it, ensuring that it took eons for free oxygen, and thus ozone, to reach levels in the atmosphere that could support large aerobes like our selves – if we had appeared on the 6th day, we would have died of asphyxiation before the unfiltered UV light killed us.

There is no evidence in the geological record for a global flood, or a recent (i.e. during the time of the human species) mass extinction not attributable to an ice age, but there is lots of evidence for hominid ancestors of increasing similarity to ourselves evolving in Africa and radiating out across the planet in waves – we’ve even discovered archaeic human remains and DNA of non-Homo sapiens sapiens such as Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo floresiensis and the Red Deer people, many of which walked the earth at the same time we did, and may have interbred with our species (in reality, they were different sub-species).

So in short, even if you can explain away evolution, the antiquity of all sorts of ancient life, notably dinosaurs, and radiometric dating, you’ve still got the laws of physics, including those of thermodynamics and the speed of light, to explain.

At some point you have to ask yourself – “Gosh, we have to perform all sorts of mental gymnastics to make our views fit the facts” – and realise that your position is untenable.

Note I have made no arguments against God – that is beyond the remit of science, being untestable, only the Biblical account of creation.

P.S. I forgot about magnetic pole reversal, paleobiology (diatoms and pollen etc), the rain forest they discovered under the ice in Antarctic, cratering on the Moon tied to it being the same age as the Earth, plate tectonics and marine fossils in the Himalayas…..

The Peanut Aliens : explaining why fundamentalism is crazy

The following is my attempt to explain to a Christian fundamentalist why his beliefs about homosexuals, and anyone not following the literal word of the Bible, make him look like a batshit crazy wingnut.

Let me put it this way.

Lets suppose that I swore blind to you that you would be abducted by aliens unless you ate peanuts every single day.

You would ask why I believed that. I’d tell you that I’m part of a group that believe this, and that our founder was personally warned by an alien.

He wrote a book about it which we have faithfully copied; it should be noted that the early copies were made by farmers and labourers, so some errors crept in, and some pages were lost, but we have no idea where they are now because we have no originals, so we just duplicate everything as accurately as we can. Now I ask you – would you start eating peanuts every day?

Lets suppose you had a peanut allergy. I’d tell you to eat the peanuts, and you’d say you could not, as it would cause you great discomfort. I’d insist you must do it, or be abducted by the aliens. As time goes on, and I become more insistent, you continue to refuse, and my group begins to condemn refusal to eat peanuts as a a sin against the aliens, and your peanut allergy as a perversion.

You know that the peanuts will cause you pain, yet all these people are telling you you’ll be abducted, and that you are disordered. How do you think you would feel?

Because mark my words – my story about the peanut-loving aliens is more plausible that yours about a man that was killed and rose again in 3 days.

Your concerns for our souls may be absolutely sincere, but they are still based on utter unevidenced poppycock, and your refusal to acknowledge that makes you look crazy.