Saturday, 25 April 2009

Science and Religion

I went to a series of talks with this title at Conway Hall today, sponsored by the Centre for Inquiry. My main reason for going there was to hear Mary Warnock speak on "Religion as Humanism" but unfortunately she pulled out at the last minute.

She was replaced by Raj Persaud who spoke on a different subject (mainly the psychology of internalising or externalising blame and reward). The other scheduled talks were by Jack Cohen on the Omphalos theory of Philip Gosse, Simon Singh on the Big Bang, and Stephen Law on Theodicy. Frankly I didn't learn from these much that I didn't know already, though Singh's talk was thorough and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed his joke mathematical "proof" that the teletubbies are evil!

However, once I came home I watched, thanks to RichardDawkins.Net, a much more edifying lecture by Andy Thomson on Why We Believe in Gods. This is a tour-de-force on the most modern research into the Cognitive Neuroscience of Religion. Some of his language is difficult to follow, but we are likely to hear much more of it as these concepts and methods develop further.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

BHA News

The British Humanist Association March/April News has just appeared. It is now in a much improved A4 format. Previously it was just a folded broadsheet. One of the main stories is that the BBC's "Central Religious Advisory Committee" is being replaced by an independent "Standing Conference on Religion and Belief" which will include a humanist representative, the excellent Andrew Copson.

There is also a new organisation, the AHS, to coordinate Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies.

Hanne Stinson, the BHA Chief Executive has raised money by having the "Happy Human" logo tattooed on her arm. Personally I dislike tattoos, along with piercings and scoriation, and wouldn't recommend the practice, despite it being a current fad.

Edit: The BHA e-bulletin, dated 20 April, links to a programme on C. S. Lewis called The Narnia Code, which I've just watched. The thesis of Michael Ward is that the seven books of the Narnia Chronicles, which many critics have called a "hotchpotch" are in fact based on the seven planets of medieval cosmology. I find this thesis convincing. However, the books are still a hotchpotch! Moreover, despite the irrelevant pontifications of Prof Polkinghorne at the end of the film, this is not Christian symbolism. It is Astrology!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Coronation Street Controversy!

Who would have thought that safe and sensible Corrie would cause such an upset for Christians?

The following is from the BBC's Website

Angry Coronation Street viewers have complained to Ofcom and ITV after a character made "anti-Christian" remarks during an episode on Easter Sunday.
The broadcast watchdog said it received 23 complaints over Ken Barlow referring to the faith as "superstition" and God as a "supernatural being".
ITV said it received about 100 complaints over the remarks.
It added the soap was set in modern society and "represents views from all sides of the religious spectrum".
In the soap, while the Barlow family were preparing to go to church, Ken - played by William Roache - questioned his son Peter on why he was allowing his grandson, Simon, to be "indoctrinated" by the church.
He then went on to criticise Simon's school for teaching creationism.

After the family returned from church, Ken began to tell his grandson that Jesus rising from the dead "may not necessarily be true" and that scientists think the Big Bang created the universe.

The episode saw Peter Barlow's son have his rabbit blessed at church
He argued it was important to teach his grandson humanism and give him another viewpoint to balance the teachings from the church.
The character was later seen in the pub saying he believed "children should be told the truth" and that Christianity was comforting because "that's how they get their hooks into you, when you're vulnerable".
Viewers also complained on ITV's message boards that Ken Barlow's comments were "completely unacceptable" and "inappropriate" to be shown on Easter Sunday.
One user wrote: "To choose this script on the most holy day in the Christian calendar is insulting and greatly offensive."
In defending its decision to air the episode, ITV said: "At the moment we have a very positive story involving Sophie Webster and her new found interest in religion, Emily Bishop has also always been seen as a very positive representation of Christianity.
"Likewise Ken Barlow's different views on religion have always been a strong aspect of his character."
Ofcom said it would be looking into the complaints.

If it's true that there is "no such thing as bad publicity" then this furore will help to make more people aware of humanism, whether they watch the soap or not.

Would those that complained have been so offended if the programme had shown a conversation among characters of different faiths? Probably not; it would appear that to many people, any god is better than no god.

But how to we feel about Ken Barlow being our new champion? Would we have liked someone a bit "cooler?"

No doubt it will blow over without further coverage; Ofcom must have more concerning matters than this.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Population Problem

Although we are Humanists that doesn't mean we want a planet over-run with Humans! The Optimum Population Trust is in the news since David Attenborough has become one of its patrons. He says: "I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more."

The Population Problem tends to be a taboo subject, because of the fear that it could only be controlled by coercive measures. But without some rational approach, presumably based on education and voluntary self-control, it is probable that population will be controlled in the end by flood, famine, pestilence and war.

The world population is now approaching 7 billion (that's 7 with nine zeros) and is projected to go over 9 billion by 2050. It is probably already well above the optimum at which pollution and damage to the environment can be avoided.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Letter in the Press

I have had a short letter published in today's Hastings Observer. It is a reply to one that appeared two weeks ago which advocated following "the Almighty's ideas of how we're meant to live". I signed it as Secretary of Hastings Humanists to give us extra publicity.

Anyone who wants to read the text of the works of Thomas Paine after learning more about him from yesterday's meeting, will find them here: Just click on the red or orange squares.

Disappointingly the notice in last week's paper did not attract any new members to our meeting. Perhaps the Easter holiday week is the wrong time - too many people away or entertaining visitors.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Publicity for Human Rights Meeting

An email Press Release I sent to Hastings Observer has resulted in a notice at the bottom of page 10. It has been given the title "Focus on Tom Paine", which is fair enough, though the actual subject advertised was "Human Rights" in general. However, an account of Tom Paine's adventurous and eventful life is sure to feature strongly.

The subject of Human Rights has come up in at least two other news stories this week. First there was the issue of the right to assisted suicide, as organised by Dignitas, the Swiss company run by Ludwig Minelli, who is a Human Rights lawyer. Then there was the New Afghan Law passed by Hamid Karzai that is said to legalise rape within marriage. It has brought into question what ideals we are fighting for.

Rose Austen has agreed to chair this meeting. It would be helpful if members could indicate how they would like to see our meetings develop. For instance, do you want more opportunity for discussion, or to raise other issues, or more formal lectures?