Tag Archives: religion

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 godofevolution.com 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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Pious Misrepresentation of the Day – a complaint to the BBC

This is the unabridged version of the complaint I sent to the BBC concerning a Thought for the Day radio broadcast that stepped way over the line of religious contemplation into an outright attack on atheism and secularism.

“I wish to complain about the disgraceful misrepresentation of secular atheism as broadcast on BBC Ulster’s Thought For The Day on 28th May 2012. The recording begins at 25 minutes 45 seconds into this podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01j8h3y/Good_Morning_Ulster_28_05_2012/

In it, the Rev Dr. Johnston McMaster asserted a number of human disasters were due to atheist secularism, in an attempt to promote his own religion.

Of the four examples of atheist secularism cited – the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia and China, at most only one meets the criteria of secularism – i.e. the state is neutral on matters of belief. Communism actively discriminated against religion, and Nazi Germany discriminated against Jews and promoted Christianity, or at least used it to it’s own ends – it is certain that it had a treaty with the Vatican which they adhered to until the end. The French Revolution heralded the end of the feudal era in France, driven by principles of the Enlightenment. Modern secular Europe, possibly the most stable and peaceful region of human civilisation, has roots in this turbulent period. I think the French would take a dim view of the opinion that it was a disaster or a failure.

To summarise, the preacher was guilty of the following logical fallacies:

* Straw men – see above plus ‘God is consumerism, nationalism or consumerism’ – these are not in any way religions.

* Affirming the consequent – ‘Stalin was an atheist and evil, therefore all atheists are evil’ makes as much sense as ‘Hitler was a vegetarian and evil, therefore all vegetarians are evil.’

* Begging the question – ‘God is dead’/’God doesn’t go away’ – requirement being he ever ‘lived’.

* Lying – ‘we need God to be good/be humane/be dignified’. This is known to be false – see this scientific study as an example –  http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2012/04/30/religionandgenerosity/

* Special pleading – Karl Marx’s ‘opium of the masses’ true of ‘some forms of religion’ implication being ‘but not ours’. Why should Christianity be an exception?

That’s a lot of logical fallacies to squeeze in in only 3 minutes.

Oddly, given how disastrous secularism allegedly is, Norway has just disestablished their church and, weeks later, still haven’t had one decent massacre. The last one they had was because of a religious fanatic.

I believe the broadcast contravened the following BBC Editorial Guidelines due to the gross misrepresentation of secular atheism:

12.2.1 The beliefs and practices of religions and denominations must be described with due accuracy.

12.2.2 The religious views and beliefs of an individual, a religion or denomination must not be misrepresented or abused, as judged against generally accepted standards.

The subject matter of this broadcast was controversial, and was not impartial, nor clearly distinguished as opinion and not fact, contravening these two guidelines:

4.4.5 We must apply due impartiality to all our subject matter.  However, there are particular requirements for ‘controversial subjects’, whenever they occur in any output, including drama, entertainment and sport.

A ‘controversial subject’ may be a matter of public policy or political or industrial controversy.  It may also be a controversy within religion, science, finance, culture, ethics and other matters entirely.

4.4.7 When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.

In the interests of balance, the BBC should either apologise for this disgracefully biased broadcast, or allow an opposing view to be broadcast as Thought For The Day.”


7th June 2012, a response – I’ve reproduced the email from the BBC’s Senior Religious Programmes producer, Rev Dr Bert Tosh, apologising for the ‘over-much generalisation about “secularism and atheism”‘, agreeing that Thought for the Day ‘is not the appropriate vehicle for a discussion about the relative merits of religion, humanism, secularisation’, and assuring that ‘corrective action has now been taken to avoid any recurrence of what happened on this particular occasion.’

An adequate apology, and closure of the matter. Perhaps it would be too ask that a humanist be allowed to broadcast a Thought for the Day? 😉

7 June, 2012

Dear Colin

Editorial Complaint – Thought for the Day

I’m replying to your recent complaint about a Thought for the Day piece which was broadcast on 28.05.12.

Dr McMaster’s contribution was intended to describe the effects which a loss of religious faith and a “sense of the transcendent” might have on society. His comments were/are contestable, but they were not meant to suggest that religion is the only guarantor of “our humanity” or people’s ability to negotiate “the difference between good and evil”.  Dr McMaster acknowledged that religion itself “has done enormous harm and [that] God has frequently been recruited to bless wars and our Irish violence”. In affirming what he feels to be positive about religious belief however, there was, on reflection, over-much generalisation about “secularism and atheism”. We accept that Dr McMaster’s script should have been amended before broadcast, consistent with the established conventions around this slot, and apologise for any upset or offence caused.

We welcome all feedback, and take careful account when people feel that the BBC has got something wrong, or fallen short of their expectations. Diverse views and honest debate are important within our output, but we also need to take account of what is appropriate in different programme slots. Thought for the Day is meant to provide a religious/ethical and personal view on loosely topical issues. It is not the appropriate vehicle for a discussion about the relative merits of religion, humanism, secularisation etc. We need to ensure that our guidance to contributors is clear in this regard and that what we broadcast is consistent with Thought for the Day’s editorial brief. Corrective action has now been taken to avoid any recurrence of what happened on this particular occasion.

I hope this is useful and am grateful to you for taking the time to get in touch. Your concerns have been shared with senior editorial colleagues.

Yours sincerely

Rev Dr Bert Tosh

Senior Producer Religious Programmes – BBCNI

Religious criticism : the importance of not being silent

This blog is an adaptation of a comment I wrote on the Belfast News Letter in response to a letter attacking Mormons as ‘not true Christians’ by a family of Northern Ireland Protestant fundamentalists.

If my religious criticism offends a religious person, I will not apologise and I will not refrain from repeating it. I will not be silent, so asking me to refrain from commenting on religion simply because I do not subscribe to one myself is pointless.

The mark of any robust system of thought is how it responds to criticism – that religion’s only defence is to discourage, threaten or outlaw dissenters tells me just how sturdy a foundation it has. It should be noted I am not attacking religious people, but their ideology. That their sense of self is so bound to it that to attack it is seen as attacking them is just one of the many failings of religion.

I will admit that I am not particularly well read in the intellectually gymnastic, pseudo-academic discipline of theology. I am content to study science, because unlike theology, it demonstrably works; the test of science is that it can make accurate predictions, which it does.

That many religious people are repeatedly shown to have inadequate knowledge of not only science but their own faith, and that their arguments are fallacious, prejudiced and deceitful is not my fault. Indeed, take Pascal’s Wager, a known fallacy in that it presumes a false dichotomy of Christianity or atheism, when in fact they could both be wrong – Christians will burn just as surely as I if Lord Brahma or Zeus turn out to be the real god!

I will not be silent. As pastor Martin Niemöller regretfully said of the lack of opposition amongst the German intelligentsia during the rise of Nazism:

“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

I support gay rights even though I am not gay, I support racial equality even though I am not of an ethnic minority, I support women’s rights even though I am not a woman, I support the right to religious belief and worship even though I am not religious.

Yes, I think all religions are based upon doctrines of ancient fabrications, assertions, assumptions, plagiarism and forgery. On that basis, any attempt by members of one faith to smear the belief system of another as somehow lesser, when their own faith has such shaky historical and moral foundations, is an act of naked religious supremacism and should be opposed on the basis of fairness. Thus, it is not only my right not to be silent, but my duty.

The God of incompetence

I originally posted this on the Belfast Telegraph’s comment pages, in response to a gay Christian with whom I was on the same side of the debate, but for different reasons. He believed there was no scriptural evidence that homosexuality was a sin. I consider scriptural evidence of any kind as bullshit, and defend his sexual orientation on purely moral humanistic grounds.

“For an omnipotent, omni-prescient being, he does a piss-poor job of making himself known.

And why ‘he’? If he is indeed the only god, and has only ever been (i.e. there are no goddesses to get funky with), then he does not reproduce and would have no gender. God should be an ‘it’ – just another example of the misogyny of religion 😛

I’ve heard the possibility that we are an experiment, our Universe sat in a petri-dish in a lab. If so, it seems God just nipped out for a cig* (edited – my original choice of a word for cigarette could have been better chosen in view of the topic!) and some coffee and missed the last 13.7 billion years of our existence while he was dipping his digestive….sloppy 😛

I’ve always felt that if I was going to make a Universe, I’d design it with rules that I didn’t subsequently need to violate to make stuff happen – I’d far rather allow stuff to emerge by itself (morality is itself emergent, a natural product of any social species). If I was a gardener, I’d just plant a bit of woodland and let it go ‘au naturel’ – the result would be more beautiful than I could manage.

I recall once pointing out to a bright lad who happened to have taken the 6 day creation for granted – “If I was God, and I was making a Universe, why would I rush? I’m immortal, right?”. I’m not saying you’re a young Earth creationist, GC (I credit you with too much intelligence for that), but religions of all kinds are stacked on heaps of assumptions. I feel on much firmer ground perched on the shoulders of giants, all of them peer-reviewed, their ideas tested to destruction. I allow myself the odd indulgence of my own opinion too, mind.”