Galileo Exhibition at the Vatican

A portrait of Galileo, looking like he's just answered the door to find an inquisitor standing there

A collection of Galileo's instruments and papers are to be put on display at the Vatican, to 'celebrate' the 400th anniversary of his confirmation that the Sun does not, in fact, go around the Earth.

What a great way for the Catholic church to show that it is no longer hostile to science. Yeah right.

Is that the plan? 'Look! look everyone! Not only are we a big friendly welcomimg Church, we're so accommodating of science that we can exhibit the work of a heretic we literally brought to his knees before the might of Mother Church, and came within a whisker of burning for allowing his observations of reality to contradict official doctrine. A man whom we finally decided was telling the truth in 1992, by which time his theories and observations had been superseded by extremely advanced theories about the nature of reality. Unfortunately for us though, these theories were developed by people we couldn't cow into submission with the explicit threat of torture and execution. Aren't we all nice and modern?'

It occurs to me that these papers and instruments are probably the same ones the Church seized at the time of his trial for heresy, so how thoughtful the Vatican is for allowing these artefacts to go on general display.

Cynical bastards.

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Kirpan? No, Ban, Say School's Governors

A school in Barnet, north London (just up the road from me)  has withdrawn a boy of 14 who wanted to wear a 5" dagger, known as a Kirpan, to school as a demonstration of his faith as a Sikh. Apparently this object is to be worn by all Serious Sikhs as one of the 'five articles of faith', the others being uncut hair, a small comb called a Khanga, a steel bracelet called a Kara, and, erm, a pair of long johns (no, seriously, take a look at The Sikh Coalition's website if you don't believe me).

Now far be it for me to criticise a child's right to carry around a lethal weapon as a demonstration of his faith in the teachings of a bunch of 'Gurus', I mean it's a lot better than all those kids who carry blades around simply as a demonstration of the fact that they're thick as pig shit and destined for prison, but what is quite funny about this case is that the school had to ban it on - yes, I know you've guessed already - Health and Safety grounds.

So the Health and Safety act does occasionally have it's uses. As much as I long for the day when this sort of thing will be banned on grounds of religious bullshit, I suppose H&S will do for now.

Amazingly the boy has been carrying this blade to school for the last 2 years, but the school decided, for reasons unspecified, that it was no longer appropriate. The school had tried to compromise by offering to allow the boy to wear a 2" version, welded into a sheath, but this offer was rejected by the boy's family as it would only be a replica, which presumably God would not approve of.

Like God gives a shit anyway. I mean, he was pretty OK with having nothing capable of wearing a dagger for about 13.7 billion years, until some clever-dick in 17th century Punjab decided it was necessary as an 'article of faith', but of course these arguments are irrelevant where belief and adherence to tradition are concerned.

The local 'Sikh spokesman', was not impressed:

Mejindarpal Kaur, director of community group United Sikhs, said: "The Compton School's decision is a blow to religious freedom in Barnet - schools throughout the UK have accommodated Sikh students who wear a kirpan."

The boy's family said he is now being privately educated, having missed five weeks of school.

He missed 5 weeks? over this? Is that not slightly remiss of the parents? Is not general education a wee bit more important than protesting about your boy's 'right' to wear a blade to school?

A statement by the school's governors said: "We have examined potential compromises after looking at how this issue has been dealt with in other schools and elsewhere within the Sikh community and taken legal advice.

"At the moment we are holding a place open for the student should he feel able to wear a kirpan suitable to bring into school."

The Department for Children, Schools and Families are standing by the governors' decision, which is something I strongly suspect Baroness Warsi would have a few words to say about.

I was going to include a picture of a kirpan, but a quick search on Google images reveals so many different varieties of the things that you'd have to be God to know a kirpan from a dirk.

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The Gospel According to St Plastic

Moses Receives the Commandments

I don't know how many of you are already aware of this, I certainly wasn't until now, but there apparently exists an illustrated bible called the Brick Testament, in which scenes from the bible are enacted using - wait for it - lego models.

This book is the brainchild of a man called Brendan Powell Smith, nickmamed 'The Reverend'. Launched online in 2001 (The Brick Testament) the book was published in paper format in 2003. Why this story was published on the The Telegraph's online page on Thursday I am not quite sure, but at least it has now come to my attention.

He says it is intended to educate people about the Bible “in a way that is fun and compelling, while remaining true to the text of the scriptures.

To this end, all stories are retold using direct quotes from The Bible.”

Said the Telegraph's report:- It is huge, detailed, occasionally gory and frequently satirical. The excerpts from 1 Samuel are entitled “Saul rejected for incomplete genocide”, after the leader of the Israelites left some sheep and cattle alive after being ordered to exterminate the Amalekites.

Similarly, Saint Stephen is shown saying: “If you ignore a few phrases here and there and completely ignore their original context, [the Scriptures] totally predict Jesus!”

Mr Smith claims that he is not at all religious, he just has a "long standing interest in religion, the Bible, and the study of ancient Christianity and Judaism, hence the nickname 'The Reverend.'"

Or perhaps just can't grow out of playing with lego.

I have mixed opinions on this - I think it's mostly silly, and the tongue-in-cheek way in which many of the scenes are played out is humorous and engaging, but still I find the idea of using harmless kids toys (especially lego, of which I was particularly fond) to tell religious stories rather worrying.

Just reading the comments to the Telegraph's story confirm the levels of abject cynicism to which the faithfull will stoop in their desire to pollute the minds of innocents; one respondent said:

"What a great way of communicating the message of the Bible to children in a medium that they can relate to.

I have seen children using lego reenacting some of the great stories of David and Goliath and putting these images together to make their own video sequences. Relatively easy and great fun.

The bible can still be relevant to children in 2009 providing them with a light in what is a very spiritually dark world."

I don't know what is worse about this comment; the sinister idea that toys are an engaging way of filling innocent minds with corrosive rubbish, or that the respondent is probably a nice person who thinks the above is a genuinely good thing.

What was immediately obvious was that they hadn't looked at the website. Another respondent replied:

"Clearly {a previous commenter] hasn't seen what the Brick Testament is all about. And neither has anyone who thinks children should be looking at it. It's done completely tongue in cheek. There's, gasp, lego sex, men tossing their lego foreskins in a basket, and people cutting each other in half complete with lego blood and guts..... It's funny. It's not evil-- or a teaching tool for that matter."

So it's worth taking a look at for the comedy value, but sad none the less.

Apologies if you knew about this years ago, but I didn't, so there.

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French Police Arrest CERN Scientist on Suspicion of Al Qaeda Link

Everyone's favourite picture of magnets - CERN

This from The Times

An Algerian nuclear physicist working on the CERN project has been arrested by the French authorities on suspicion of having links to Al Qaeda. He and his brother have been under surveillance for around 18 months, according to the French authorities, after being identified as belonging to a group responsible for sending French radicals to fight in Afghanistan.

A source said French intelligence officers had intercepted messages in which the man had suggested targets in France.

"He had expressed a wish or a desire to commit terrorist actions, but had not materially prepared them," said the source.

The 32 year old man, who has not yet been named, had contacts within the Algerian terrorist organisation Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM). Previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, AQIM waged a war with the Algerian authorities in a bid to install an Islamic state at the cost of tens of thousands of lives in the 1990s.

The French Interior Minister, Brice Hortefeux, said that these arrests "indicate perhaps that we have avoided the worst possible scenario", however a CERN spokesman said the suspect had "never been in contact with any elements which could be used for terrorist purposes."

He was a physicist who worked on data analysis "in the context of a contract with another institute" and "none of his research had a potential military application."

Well at least we can rest assured, for the time being, that Al Qaeda aren't planning to create a black hole (thats a joke before any irate physicists write in; see my post Settling in for background), but the thought of those deranged bastards trying to sabotage a machine built for the most noble intention of peering further back in time than ever before fills me with both sadness and anger.

I'm also filled with wonderment that anyone so obviously clever as a nuclear physicist, working on a project designed to push our knowledge back further in time, would be interested in supporting an organisation whose sole purpose is to physically take us back in time.

Well done to the French authorities if this man is guilty, and, for all you conspiracy theorists out there... supposing it's actually a plot by Fermilab so they can try and take back the lead? Remember, it started here... Shhh!

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Quiet Day, so Here's a Cartoon

Yes, it's a fairly quiet news day for religion today, or I'm not looking hard enough for a story. Maybe something I want to write about will turn up later, but for now, here's another cartoon from Religious - simply called Science v Religion on a Logarithmic scale.


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Blair: - The Key to World Harmony is for Christianity and Islam to 'Get On'

Tony Blair and his fine grin, here pictured in Bethlehem. I do like to use the most flattering pictures I can find on my blog, naturally.

Not content with galavanting around the holy land as Middle East Peace Envoy, or looking forward to his forthcoming likely role as 'President of Europe', Elder Statesman the one and only Tony Blair addressed a Common World conference of Muslim and Christian scholars at the Georgetown University, Washington DC, on Tuesday.

He apparently said, with great insight, that the key to World harmony in the 21st century is for these two faiths to 'get on' with each other.

Well there's a shocker - you mean if they fight one another, and can't agree about who's book is best, we won't have World peace? Damn.

Unfortunately this was about the high-point of his lucidity and hold upon the realities facing our World, as he then went on to say that many of the challenges facing the world today were similar to those that confronted Jesus and Mohammed. Yeah, like not knowing how rainfall works, thinking the desert is full of djinns, thinking that the World beyond the horizon is populated by Giants and mythical creatures, that sort of thing. Oh and of course mistaking 'voices' for the creator of the Universe - all problems we are dealing with today.

“Each was made to feel an outsider. Each stood out against the conventional teaching of the time. Each believed in the universal appeal of God to humanity. Each was a change-maker.” He said.

Where to start?

Jesus, if he even existed, was made to feel an outsider because he went around claiming to be the Messiah. Not the first, and by no means (still) the last person to do so of course, but if there's one thing gauranteed to piss off a Jew, it's claiming to be the Messiah. Seriously, go to Golders Green and find an Orthodox gentleman, minding his own business, and tell him your the Messiah. If he doesn't get really pissed off, I'll eat my hat.

And of course, not content with annoying Jews he had to go around bothering the Romans too, which is never a plan.

Mohammed, on the other hand, was just a merchant, and by all accounts not a very good one. He was treated as an outsider for disappearing into a cave and coming back with a load of stories - sorry I mean the final and immutable word of God - that bore an uncanny resemblance to local and nearby legends, plus a few bits about how he could treat his wives, of course. Were it not for his large family, and their penchant for murderous conquest, the World could have been spared this particular 'change maker'.

Such is history.

Mr Blair's talk pretty much went downhill from there. He then went on to say that faith was 'abused to do wrong'. Once again, an incredible insight (I'm beginning to understand why he became a Catholic) that ignores the fairly obvious point that faith is not only abused, but lends itself very freely to any idiot going who cares to interpet it in any way they choose. Faith is a whore - she'll do anything you want, just depends how you say whats written. Reminds me of the iphone advert - "You want peace and justice for all? - There's an ap for that." You want World domination and stoning for the infidels? There's an ap for that." And so on.

“We face an aggressive secular attack from without. We face the threat of extremism from within.”

Arguing that there was “no hope” from atheists who scorn God, he said the best way to confront the 'secularist agenda' was for all faiths to unite against it.

At least he recognizes that those who 'scorn' God are unlikely to willingly submit (or resubmit) their brains to the intellectual torpor required to believe in the big man in the sky. And if the best way for faiths to defeat the 'secularist agenda' is for them to unite, then I don't think we nasty 'secularist agenda-ists' (if you'll forgive that appalling grammatical construct) are in any particular danger, at least for the forsee-able future. Less chance, I feel, of the Pope standing shoulder to shoulder with an Ayatollah than of the bikini becoming all the rage in Riyadh.

He said: “Those who scorn God and those who do violence in God’s name, both represent views of religion. But both offer no hope for faith in the twenty first century.”

Sadly, there's plenty of hope for faith in the 21st century. Between them, followers of Islam and Christianity comprise about half of the World's population. I don't have a decent estimate of the numbers of atheists, agnostics and other non-believers, but I don't suppose its much more than one or two percent of the Earth's population. So I suppose we should feel at least slightly happy that such a minority is seen as a threat to religion. Only a threat, of course, because the evil 'secularist agenda' of the last couple of hundred years has made it very difficult to burn us.

I can't wait for born-again Blair to become unelected 'president' of an unelected European Government, I really can't. It's a prospect that fills my soul with boundless joy. Sarcasm? As if I would...

Link to this story: Times Online

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Paltry 'Justice' for Couple Who Prayed While Their Daughter Lay Dying

                  Mr & Mrs Neumann in court: Wausau, Wisconsin.

Story from BBC World News

A couple who believed that the power of healing comes from God were sentenced today for failing to seek medical assistance while their eleven year old daughter lay dying of a treatable, though undiagnosed, form of diabetes in 2008. Dale and Leilani Neumann, of Wisconsin, prayed instead of calling a doctor, and did not call the emergency services until their daughter Madeline (for some reason know as Kara) had stopped breathing.

The couple could each have been sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for neglect. Instead, Judge Vincent Howard gave each of them six months, to be served at one month per year for six years, with one parent serving a month in March and one a month in September.

Justice is served eh?

When passing sentence, Judge Howard said that this would give them each time to "think about Kara and about what God wants you to learn from this."

He added that they were "very good people, raising their family, who made a bad decision, a reckless decision".

He also said "God probably works through other people, some of them doctors." Presumably without even a hint of irony.

The couple were also given a ten-year probation ordering them to allow a nurse to see their two surviving children (yes, thats right, they weren't taken away) every three months, and had to agree to call a doctor in the event of a serious injury.

How tragic is this? A couple allow their daughter to die because of what tbey believe, and the Judge pats them on the back and says well done, just believe a little more carefully next time. This really makes me so sick I can hardly bear to think about it.

In their 'defence' the parents apparently said that they believed the power to heal came from God, and did not expect their daughter to die as they prayed for her. No shit. well that's a good defence. An' when it's rainin', I don' expect to get all wet 'cus I'm prayin' to be all snug an' dry an' all, but dang it if I don' go an get all wet anyways.

Jay Kronenwetter, Mr Neumann's lawyer, was asked in a BBC interview if he thought his client had got off lightly.

"My client sees spiritual treatment as the proper medicine and I suspect the people who want harsher punishment see Western medicine as the proper medicine, I guess therein lies the difference." He told the BBC World Service.

You betcha, shit for brains, therein lies the difference alright, the difference between having even a vague clue about what's real and what's not. Sadly in this case what's not real turns out out to be no less lethal for it.

"My clients just happen to have a belief that is very outside of our social norm." He said. Well, that's OK then, they believe, and that's what matters, right?

The negligent murderers say they continue to trust in God, and are appealing against their convictions.

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Shadow Minister Speaks Out Against Multiculturalism

Sounds like a good-news headline, doesn't it? Unfortunately my subheading for this is

Baroness Warsi Accuses Government of Launching a 'State-sponsored Attack Against Religion'

                                 Baroness Warsi - Shadow Minister

Speaking at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester yesterday, the shadow 'community cohesion minister' (yes, apparently there is such a creature, I wasn't previously aware of this either) roundly attacked the Labour government for marginalising religion and becoming "increasingly sceptical of an individual’s religious belief."

Now of course we have to take to into account the fact that she was addressing the Tory party rank and file, which I should expect would contain the highest proportion of Christians in any social grouping you care to throw together short of a general synod, but I do none the less find it moderately disturbing that the woman who will almost certainly become responsible for fostering good community relations in a few months time is of the opinion that the best way to do this is with more religion, not less.

To analyse some of her speech:

“We’ve all seen the stories, how appalling that in Labour’s Britain a community nurse can be suspended for offering to pray for a patient’s good health."

How appalling that a dedicated, state employed carer should a) offer faith healing services and b) give the patient the creeping suspicion that medicine won't work; might as well just say "you're rogered without God's help."

“How awful that a school receptionist could face disciplinary action for sending an email to her friends simply asking them to pray for her daughter."

A good use of her time and school resources? Is it not religiously intolerant to expect colleagues to share your delusion? Ask friends in your own time, or go to the Church and ask a professional to pray for you.

“At the heart of these cases lies a growing intolerance and illiberal attitude towards those who believe in God.”

Intolerance of those who believe in God? Which newspaper does she read? She wants to try looking at the world from our side of the fence for a while. Granted atheists have a comparatively very easy time of it in this country, but we're hardly rushing around brutally repressing those who choose to believe in fairy-tales. Perhaps she has a little difficulty in distinguishing between well-deserved ridicule and intolerance. And as for 'illiberal' - well, I surely need hardly explain that the least liberal members of our society are far and away the most religious.

She added: “It’s an agenda driven by the political elite, who have hijacked the pursuit of equality by demanding a dumbing down of faith.

“It’s no wonder that this leads to accusations in the media that our country’s Christian culture is being downgraded."

Again, which newspapers? The Torygraph and the (spits) Express. Oh and the Mail of course. So the faceless 'political elite' have 'hijacked the pursuit of equality' have they? Is this the same political elite that have presided over a boom in the number of faith schools? What on Earth can she mean by 'hijacking the pursuit of equality', any way? I hope I'm not just being really dense, and missing some great subtlety of argument here, but it seems to me that promoting religious faith is a one-way ticket to greater inequality, less tolerance, and a more fragmented and multicultural society than could be achieved by reducing the influence of religion in people's lives. Am I just naive?

“For many their faith brings them closer to their neighbour, it’s the driver for their voluntary work, the basis of their social action."

If their neighbour shares the same faith as them, it will bring them closer together, yes, as they almost certainly will because so many of our communities are divided along religious lines. And we're back to that time-honoured argument that faith-heads use: faith is good because it gets people doing good things, like volunteering and caring for others. Bullshit. Good people do good things, without having to be told and without the expectation of reward. If you're doing good things to curry favour with the almighty, that doesn't make you good, it makes you a creep.

“And for many, faith is the basis for some of the best schools in our country.”

Which is an absolute bloody tragedy, if you ask me (which no one did, but hey). Why must so much time and effort be wasted learning ancient stories? In our national curriculum as it stands today, a fourth-year (14-15 yr old) pupil will spend 2 hours learning about evolution. TWO HOURS to learn the bedrock of modern biology in the whole of the school year. It doesn't matter how many hours are spent in biology classes learning about anatomy, photosynthesis, ecology etc if students are given two hours in a year to learn about the development of life, and spend the same time each week learning what God said to Moses, or Mohammed, or Krishna.

"State multiculturalism is forcing Britain’s diverse communities to still define themselves as different, patronisingly special and tempting them to compete against each other for public funds."

I'm sorry, I just have to reject this as total drivel. Yes multiculturalism is bad, in my view, because it allows people from all backgrounds to remain in little cliques of their own culture, and it would be far, far better for them and everyone else if they could get along and integrate. The idea behind this creed - that people should basically be treated equally, whatever they believe - is noble enough but open to abuse by hardliners, as we have seen (we are expected to 'respect' men who beat their wives because it says in the Quran that you're allowed to do so, for example), but it simply isn't working. This is not, as Lady Warsi would have you believe, because the Government is attempting to suppress religious freedom; far from it. Multiculturalism abounds and is perpetuated precisely because our political leaders lack the balls to enforce the temporal laws of our country, when those who say their divinely inspired 'laws' should take precedence, claim to be oppressed and discriminated against. The very last thing we need to tackle multiculturalism is the promotion of yet more religion. Only through the enforcement of our secular laws and values can we reduce levels of community fragmentation, and learn to treat each other as equals.

“It’s the madness of political correctness which fails to teach our children British history in case it offends, and is the madness of translating documents into a multitude of languages instead of actually teaching people English.”

Whence cometh this madness? Is it not the same madness that inspires idiots to remove Three Little Pigs from school libraries for fear of causing offence? That suggests removing an advertising campaign using a dog's picture for fear of causing offence? This is the political correctness which she decries - a correctness born of treading on tip-toes to avoid 'offending' some religious cretin or other's precious nonsense. Again - more religion, more respect for this crap, will inspire more of this political correctness, not less. Religion should be just as open to discussion, to criticism, to critical evaluation as are politics, literature, art, science and any other endeavour of thought. To reiterate, increasing levels of religiosity in this country will further fragment our society along lines of distrust, disdain and outright hostility born of nothing more substantial than believing your ancient crap is better than X's. This is not a road I want to see my country going down.

To finish on a note of agreement though - to show I'm not just being gratuitously contrary - I do agree that people who want to come and live here should be made to learn English.

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Bishop of London Excited as Britain Heads Toward 'Post Secular Age'

The Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chartres, is apparently rubbing his little Christian hands together with glee at the potential prospect of Britain entering what he called a 'post secular age.' A sort of enlightenment in reverse, if you like.

His little show of excitement, expressed at a meeting of the Christian Fellowship in east London last Wednesday, was inspired at least in part by a recent speech by President of the British Science Association, Lord May.
Images: The Bishop of London the Right Reverend Dr Richard Chatres; Lord May, President of the British Science Association.

Speaking about the threat of climate change, and our difficulty in organising any kind of coherent global response to it, Lord May suggested that in the past, religious authority - by invoking an all-knowing, all-powerful deity - was a very effective method of ensuring the cohesion of society or, to simplify, the threat of divine punishment - if believed - is a very good way of getting people to do what they're told.

He also said that the rise of fundamentalism could hamper and threaten a unified response.

I've not been able to find a full transcript of his comments, which is unfortunate, because his speech has been lept upon by those with a religious agenda as evidence that Lord May, who is an atheist, is supportive of the power that religious authority could wield in our efforts to combat climate change, whilst those leaning toward my side of the fence have stressed that he was speaking out against religion's rejection of evidence. I should very much like to read his comments for myself, so if any of you know of a website that has a full transcript, please send me the URL.

As an example of how his comments have been interpreted by both sides, please take a look at the following links, one from the left-leaning Independent and one from the (moderately!) more right wing Daily Telegraph:

The Independent

The Torygraph

As you can see, these reporters could almost have been listening to a different speech.

To return to Dicky Chartres and his evident happiness about this, here is what he said:

“He suggested that only God was capable of evoking an appropriate response to the ecological challenges currently facing humanity. While this country may not be described as religious, we may be entering a period that is post-secular. For those of us who are believers, this is a huge opportunity. It is a very exciting time to be a servant of Jesus Christ.

“Lord May opens yet another opportunity for us because the view of the world that has held sway until comparatively recently is one summed up in a conversation between Napoleon and one of his leading scientists. Napoleon said, ‘Well, what about God’? And the scientist says, ‘Well, your majesty, I have seen no need for that hypothesis’. ”

He also said that:

“The ‘collapse’ gurus who are operating on so many websites are largely not people of faith. Many intelligent people are looking at what they believe is a god-forsaken world.

“So Lord May’s comments point to an extremely significant moment in which our perspective on the world is being refashioned in response to contemporary economic and environmental challenges. And in which a search for a more holistic understanding of reality is rendering the rather flatland, mechanistic, reductionist descriptions of the recent past increasingly unsatisfying.

“Because if the reference to God is edited out, then the world simply becomes a theatre for the human will. We come to regard ourselves as little gods and our will as sovereign.”

This seems to me nothing more than a classical, cynical attempt to capitalise on people's fears. Religion feeds on your fear and ignorance, and could not survive without it. Only God is capable of saving you from the man-made disaster we're walking in to. It is indeed "a very exciting time to be a servant of Jesus Christ." Or Allah. Or any god you like, so long as people are scared and ignorant, organised religion will be there to ease their pain.

The Bishop highlights his own considerable ignorance (or at least panders to that of his audience) by referring to the mathemetician Laplace's report to Napoleon. Indeed he had no need to invoke a divine controller, as had Newton, when he calculated the movements of the planets and their orbits, but to say that somehow since then belief in God has been irrelevant is to neglect history in the extreme.

And what does Dicky boy mean by saying that this view has "held sway until comparitively recently"? At what point in our recent history has the scientific establishment thrown up it's arms and said something like 'you know, we just can't figure out how any of this universe business and life here on Earth could possibly have come about without being designed. Laplace was wrong, we do have need of that hypothesis. We therefore declare that God is responsible, and, furthermore, that we should worship his son the Lord Jesus Christ as our only true saviour'?

To turn to his comments about 'collapse gurus', IE those who think we've already gone too far and a catastrophic (to humans) re-adjustment of the Earth's climate is inevitable; of what consequence to anything is their belief or lack of it in a god? We are (or should be!) only concerned by their evaluation of evidence, and interpretations of models. Whether they believe in the tooth fairy, or are looking forward to an eternity spent feasting in Valhalla is entirely their own concern, PROVIDING WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT THE HERE-AFTER DOES NOT INFLUENCE THEIR INTERPRETATION OF THE EVIDENCE.

If "Many intelligent people are looking at what they believe is a god-forsaken world" then I sincerely hope that many more intelligent people are looking at a world where the existence or non-existence of a god has absolutely no bearing WHATSOEVER on whether we've got our maths right.

If we really do need organised religion to make people behave, then we're absolutely fucked aren't we?

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Materialism is the New Colonialism, Says Pope

"I hate materialism; I'm keeping all this gold so that it doesn't corrupt you."

I'm getting a bit fed up of writing about the Pope and his worldwide fan club of delusional psychopaths. I'm beginning to wish he'd shut up for a while and give another religious leader an opportunity to show the World how ignorant and hypocritical they are, but it seems that Mr Ratzinger is just so brim-full of poison that he simply can't contain himself.

Opening a three week synod of African bishops in Rome - organised to discuss how the Church can help to ease problems of social injustice and conflict - his holiness apparently said that political colonialism is over, but the developed world continues to export materialism - which he called "toxic spiritual rubbish" - to the continent.

Toxic spiritual rubbish. I had to read that a couple of times, then stop laughing, and then calm down a bit. Just roll that phrase around your tongue for a bit, and imagine the Pope saying it in his gentle German accent, and no doubt really believing himself.

Toxic. Spiritual. Rubbish.

What could he mean by this phrase?

Does he mean teaching people that they are all descended from one man and one woman, created by a God who then punished them for being curious, and who continues to punish us today?

Perhaps he means the necessity of despising yourself and surpressing almost every natural urge you may have as 'ungodly', and then whenever you succumb to such an urge, having to tell a (sin-free!) priest who can 'forgive' you on God's behalf?

Or could he mean throwing yourself at the feet of one of the most disgustingly jealous and capricious gods ever invented, begging for mercy as the unforgivable sinner you are?

It could be that he means loving the man/god who saved you from the sins he gave you (except he didn't really, because any one with even a fraction of sanity knows that Adam and Eve didn't really exist) by having himself brutally tortured and executed, with all of your heart?

Perhaps he means telling people that if they waver in this ultimate goal, they will burn for ever and ever, without possible hope of reprieve, in unimaginable torment?

Does he perhaps refer to your God-given duty to prove your love for him by drinking his blood and eating his flesh?

Or could he possibly mean submitting completely to the whims of a hyper-rich, worldwide organisation, bound by no earthly laws, that has spent close on 1800 years burning, torturing, imprisoning or otherwise ruining the lives of, quite literally, countless numbers of people? An organisation that today ensures the continued misery of millions of it's followers, whether by beating and violating children, teaching the same children that they are worthless sinners, or actively promoting - for no other phrase can describe the Church's effect on this issue - the spread of HIV.

No, of course he doesn't, for all of the above are, of course, ways to achieve spirtual enlightenment, peace, harmony, and to be loved and recieved by the wonderful, loving, gentle God who created you.

So what exactly would count as toxic spiritual rubbish? Anything even vaguely smacking of humanism for a start. Educating people about the real world, and where we come from, for another thing. Teaching people that, actually, they are not so bad and don't need to grovel at the feet of a god that 'exists' purely to perpetuate the comfort of a group of ignorant men. And - how could I almost forget? - allowing people to use a contraceptive device so that they aren't playing Russian roulette every time they have sex.

All of these things are indeed appalling and abhorrent - if you happen to be one of those men who live in extreme comfort and only do so because of the ignorance and servitude of your 'children'.

Let's turn briefly to colonialism, of the good old-fashioned sort, first. Perhaps you can find an example in history of the Church speaking out against such evils? Or perhaps even an example of them not being entirely supportive of any Catholic nation setting out on the noble task of Christianising the heathens, by depriving them of their land, treasures, freedom and often their lives?

Good luck with that.

Now to turn briefly to the many wars that blight Africa and so hold back her progress; how many of these are religious wars? Fought by and between religions?

How many priests, accused of child abuse, have been moved to 'safe' parishes in Africa?

A convocation of African Bishops, brought together to discuss how they can alleviate Africa's problems, is, to my mind, on a par with a convocation of Irish priests discussing how best to reduce levels of child abuse.

If you'll forgive my rather hard-line stance on this issue, I think about the best thing the Catholic clergy in Africa could do to ease that continent's troubles would be to quietly line up against the nearest wall.

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Good News From the Czech Republic? Pope's Attempt to Rekindle Interest

"Ooh, what a pretty cup!"

His Craziness Pope Benedict XVI has just concluded a three day visit to the Czech Republic, in an attempt to capitalize on - sorry, I mean join in the commemoration of - the forthcoming 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, the bloodless coup that brought the end of communist rule in the former state of Czechoslovakia in November 1989.

The Vatican is (are?) worried by the growing secularity of the Czech nation and people. Census data show that the number of people who claimed to belong to a church dropped by 1.2 million between 1991 and 2001, to approximately 3.3 million, or about a third of the country's population, and a recent survey suggested that approximately half of all Czechs do not believe in God. Cause for concern indeed.

The Pope's plan was to use his visit to remind people of the repression the religious suffered under communist rule, and to ask people to 'reconsider' a faith that most of them appear to be doing perfectly well enough without.

Addressing a crowd of some 120,000 followers in the city of Brno (the Vatican had suggested as many 200,000 would attend) the holy one said that: “History has demonstrated the absurdities to which man descends when he excludes God from the horizon of his choices and actions.”

Doubtless you can imagine my thoughts on this little pearl of rampant hypocrisy.

Standing near a 12m (37')  high steel cross, which fortunately did not have a semi-naked dying man of similar proportions hanging from it, he went on to say that technical progress was not enough to “guarantee the moral welfare of society”.

"Would you like to stroke my stick?"

No, it isn't, well spotted you old fool. However it doesn't follow from this that obeying the instructions of such a patently noxious organisation as the Catholic church will "guarantee the moral welfare of society", either. It would guarantee the material comfort of a clique of deluded men, of course, as well as guarantee the continued suffering of millions uopn millions of people around the world, and guarantee that said millions continue to beget yet more millions of unwanted children, amongst other things.

It also seems that the Church is smarting from it's continuing inability to reclaim property seized by the Government during the communist era, or to receive any compensation for these losses. Cardinal Vlk, the head of the Catholic church in the Czech republic, went on TV during the Pope's visit to complain that he had achieved 'practically nothing' in the twenty years since the velvet revolution. My heart bleeds, it really does.

So, atheists unite in wishing the people of the Czech republic the very best.

"What the hell are we doing here?"

BBC News
Times Online

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A Creationist's Guide to the Scientific Method

A Lazy one from me today - just found this cartoon and shamelessly lifted it from Religious .

The site's well worth taking a look at if you haven't seen it before, there're are lots of cartoons about religion, and about the relationship between religion and science. This cartoon shows how a creationist might use the scientific method to conclude what they know to be true.


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