Expelled exposed

15 April 2008

OK, you must have read about it by now. So here’s my contribution to getting the right Expelled to the top of the search rankings.

Nuff said.

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Qualified to lead?

28 March 2008

After the GW Bush debacle, many of us in the reality-based community support the idea of a science debate for the USS presidential candidates (Science Debate 2008). But it seems to me this idea doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Would you be happy getting brain surgery from a lawyer? Do you want chief executives determining minimum wage levels? Would you trust a professional soldier to determine whether defence budgets should be cut in favour of education? Should religious nutters like Tony Blair be allowed to determine scienctific or economic policies?  

It seems utterly bizarre to me that democratic countries choose to elect as leaders people who completely lack any knowlegde or understanding of key subjects, from the importance of randomised controlled trials to the Cuban missile crisis. Civil servants from China to Britain have to undergo tough exams, yet their leaders can be pig-ignorant. Why do we tolerate this? It’s crazy.

It seems to me every democratic country should, with the help of its citizens, develop a curriculum for politicians, covering everything from science to medicine to economics to history. There could, for instance, be a basic test politicians have to pass simply to stand for election, and a more advanced examination for politicians to undergo before they can take office.

Of course, getting agreement on a curriculum will be a challenging task in itself. But that debate could be very interesting in itself, in exposing the often-ludicrous beliefs on which many people base their everyday decisions. Ideally, of course, we should aim to eliminate all beliefs in favour of educated guesses.


“Faith schools”

15 February 2008

Many months ago, I signed a petition calling on the UK government to abolish faith schools. Tonight, I got an email telling me there was an official response.

Let’s start with the last line:

Many parents who are not members of a particular faith value the structured environment provided by schools with a religious character.

Now, why can’t state schools provide a “structured” environment? What is a structured environment anyway?

Parents like me want the best education for our children, and we’ll lie through our teeth about our beliefs to get it if we think the state-supported religious schools in our area are better than any others. I know lots of parents who have lied about their beliefs to get into such schools. I even know some people who have been asked to lie on their friends’ behalf.

Parents’ dishonesty has nothing to with any inherent superiority of faith schools, just the fact that these schools tend to have been around longer, have more money and, most of all, the pick of the best pupils.

It gets even worse:

Religious Education (RE) in all schools, including faith schools, is aimed at developing pupils’ knowledge, understanding and awareness of the major religions represented in the country. It encourages respect for those holding different beliefs and helps promote pupils’ moral, cultural and mental development.

I have no problem with teaching people about different religions. Teaching them to “respect” superstitious rubbish is another matter.

And the idea that “moral development” depends on learning about religion just makes me despair. We’re in real trouble if that’s true.

It get worse still:

In February 2006, the faith communities affirmed their support for the framework in a joint statement making it clear that all children should be given the opportunity to receive inclusive religious education, and that they are committed to making sure the framework is used in the development of religious education in all their schools and colleges.

Really? The faith communities support faith schools? Well I never.

They think children should be given the “opportunity” to receive religious education? Of course, they want the opportunity to spread their lies to impressionable young minds.

What is unbelievable, in this day and age, is that any government is sponsoring and supporting those lies, let alone the British government.

PZ Myers, I hope you’ll pick up on this on Pharyngula. You might think the US is behind Europe in terms of religion and evolution, but really, you’re way ahead of us in banning religion from state-sponsored education.


A flood but not Noah’s

20 November 2007

You just have to groan when you see headlines such as “Research backs story of the Ark“. It’s just wrong in so many ways, and yet you know some are really going to think it justifies their superstitions.

The actual story is that researchers have more accurately dated the flooding of the Black Sea by the Mediterrannean to around 8300 years ago, attributing it to the 1.4 metre global sea level rise caused by the melting of the ice sheets covering North America after the last Ice Age, and speculating that the peoples displaced by the Black Sea flood waters spread across Europe, taking their farming skills with them. (There’s no mention of any boats.)

They also speculate that the Black Sea flooding gave rise to the myth of Noah’s flood – one of several theories – but what they describe is of course very different to the biblical description. So if this was the flood, those who wrote the bible were either rather ignorant people retelling a much embellished and altered folk story, or some supernatural being was lying to us. Take your choice.

Not convinced? Check out this entry for an impressively comprehensive list of problems with the biblical flood myth.


The missing link

15 November 2007

All the excitement in the science blogosphere about the Judgment Day documentary on the Dover trial of evolution vs “intelligent design” led me to this post.

It’s ancient by blog standards, but a nicely written piece about yet another transitional fossil.


Weak thinking

7 November 2007

New Scientist’s editorials can be very good but this one really irks me.

It starts by suggesting the Beyond Belief II conference went easy on religion. That’s not quite the impression I’ve got from other accounts, like PZ Myers’, though of course such things are very subjective.

It then mentions David Sloan Wilson‘s view that religions might have been an adaption that boosted group survival through, for instance, ensuring compliance with the group, and states:

To want to cleanse society of religion before understanding its evolutionary roots and purpose seems strangely unscientific.

Now I don’t think David would argue that just because religion might once have had an adaptive role, that the same is necessarily true in modern times. And I don’t think you need to understand religion’s evolutionary roots to see it is a) factually wrong, and b) often maladaptive in the modern world.

It may be true, as the article states, that replacing religion with science is fanciful. But what’s not fanciful is separating the state and religion. Prying the dying hands of the Anglican church from the British state is a long overdue move.

What’s also not fanciful is separating education and religion. I am appalled by the state funding of faith schools in Britain. It is child abuse, as Dawkins put it.

The point is that neither of these will be achieved as long as society continues to pay lip service to superstitious nonsense just because it’s old superstitious nonsense that lots of people still fall for, partly because of the links with the state and education. The “new atheists” should be feted for highlighting this insanity, not castigated for pointing out that the emperor has no clothes.


On moral relativism

26 October 2007

Choices are terrible things. We have to think about them.

And judging by the opprobium heaped upon moral relativism, few people want to have to think about morals. Amazingly, to me at least, one reason given for rejecting “Darwinism” is that it leads to moral relativism.

It seems to me the opposite is true. Religion may preach absolute morals as “god-given” facts, but in practice religious morals change with the times and with the comings and goings of different sects. Once contraception was seen as immoral, now only the Catholic Church clings to this position, on the flimsiest of Biblical justifications.

Contraception, abortion, slavery, female priests, homosexuality, stem cells, assisted reproduction – you name it, you can find reasons to oppose or support it depending upon which quote you choose or creed you support.

By contrast, science holds out the promise of moral absolutism. As we come to understand exactly what fetuses are capable of experiencing, and how “natural” homosexuality is, we can make judgements based on facts, not interpretations of ancient and contradictory texts.

Of course, science can change as it gets closer and closer to the truth, and there’ll always to be scope for debate. But those seeking absolutism should turn to science, not religion.