Saturday 23 January 2010

Burnee links for Saturday

Don't get too close!Creation Science Movement — Genesis Expo Closes - for Expansion !
In that case I'll be making another visit. Last February (my previous visit) the exhibition space looked to be on its last legs, and my impression was if that was the best they could do then perhaps we didn't have much to worry about. I was not aware that even then the expansion plans were under way — which is depressing. But we'll see what they come up with. (I could check out the planning permission, as that will be a matter of public record.)

Raymond Tallis: Why I changed my mind on assisted dying | HumanistLife
It is significant that it's humanists who are lobbying for compassion in the matter of assisted dying, while those who cling to religious dogma are the ones in support of prolonging suffering.

Karen Armstrong versus Sam Harris: Playing the Socrates card
"Fluency in theology--the exhaustive study of that which is wholly imaginary--is not required to deny the veracity of invented supernatural claims."
Says it all really.

In defence of Mr Justice Eady « Two Cultures
Fascinating analysis of why the press are standing behind Simon Singh
(Via Jack of Kent

Creation Science Movement: "Darwinism, Social Engineering and Lark Rise to Candleford"
Is creationist Stephen Hayes paranoid — or is the BBC really intent on vilifying creationists? If creationists are being targeted by the BBC Drama Department, maybe it's a sign that the media are at last waking up to the educational threat posed by creationist nonsense.

Times Online - Eureka Zone - WBLG: Homeopathy by the (mind-boggling) numbers
On Boots' selection of homeopathic remedies:
"They are an insult to the herbal remedies on the shelf next to them at Boots; at least snake-oil has the decency to contain some snake."
On Faith Panelists Blog: Suffering and the vain quest for significance - Paula Kirby
What can I say? Paula unerringly hits it spot on, yet again. (I need a script to place Paula Kirby's "Washington Post On Faith" posts automatically into Burnee Links....)

The Truth Still Matters | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine
I agree with Sean Carroll that science and religion are not compatible. Anyone who claims otherwise has not, in my opinion, thought seriously enough about the issue (Kenneth R. Miller and other science/religion compatibilists notwithstanding).

February 2010: A. A. Gill on Kentucky's Creation Museum |
A. A. Gill paid a visit to Ken Ham's Genesis theme park. He didn't like it.

Friday 15 January 2010

The theodicy of Haiti doesn't bear thinking about (so let's not)

I get my first news of the day from BBC Radio 4, specifically the Today Programme. Yesterday regular host John Humphrys asked1 the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, why God allowed such terrible suffering to be inflicted on the innocent people of Haiti. The Archbishop didn't have a coherent answer, though he did at least condemn Pat Robertson's ugly accusation (that the Haitians had it coming because their ancestors made a pact with the devil):

The Today Programme  audio stream for Thursday, January 14th is available here (scroll down to 0831):

Or download an mp3 of the relevant clip from RapidShare here:
"Stories of survival are emerging from the rubble in Haiti. Troy Livesay, of the Christian charity World Wide Village, lives with his family in Port au Prince and has written a moving account in the Guardian about his family's survival. He begs people to prey for Haitians. Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, comments on how people turn to God during times of disaster."
( Troy Livesay's Guardian account is here: )

When disaster strikes the innocent, theodicy is revealed as the empty wailing of those who know they have no excuses for their supposedly omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God, but this morning on Thought for the Day theodicy's guilty vacuity was brought to a new low by Giles Fraser:
" a moment like this, I prefer to leave the arguments to others. For me this is a time quietly to light a candle for the people of Haiti, and to offer them up to God in my prayers. May the souls of the departed rest in peace."
Well thanks a bunch Giles! I'm sure your candle and prayers will be so effective in helping the Haitians in their dire plight, and might even convince them that — despite appearances — God loves them after all! (I'm sorry, but when I heard this execrable peroration this morning I uttered an extremely audible profanity.) This isn't the first time the Rev. Dr. Giles Fraser has used Thought for the Day to hide behind verbal obfuscation, and it illustrates precisely why the slot should be opened up to secular humanist viewpoints.

RealMedia audio stream:

Podcast audio:

Download mp3 from RapidShare:

The script for Giles Fraser's thought should be is now available soon; meanwhile you can read an alternative interpretation at Platitude of the Day.

UPDATE 2010-01-19: On Saturday's Today Programme, atheist philosopher A. C. Grayling was asked to respond to both John Sentamu and Giles Fraser. He was calmly rational (as always), but scheduled at the very end of the programme he had insufficient time to deal in full with the idiocy that is theodicy. The vacuous blatherings of Messrs Sentamu and Fraser last week have been rightly castigated across the blogosphere — Manic Street Preacher's recent post contrasts similarly reprehensible, knee-jerk statements in response to tragedy with those displaying a more compassionate outlook.

The audio stream of A. C. Grayling's valiant but time-constrained effort is available here (scroll down to 0854):

Or you can download the clip from RapidShare as an mp3:

1UPDATE 2010-01-22: A transcript of John Humphrys' conversation with Archbishop John Sentamu is available at the JREF Swift blog.

Sunday 10 January 2010

D. J. Grothe on The Pod Delusion

When I launched my occasional sceptical podcast Skepticule in September last year I lamented the apparent dearth of British sceptical podcasts. Little did I know that at the very same time a weekly UK-based sceptical podcast, The Pod Delusion, was also in the process of being launched. Though I had reservations about the variable audio quality of the first few episodes of The Pod Delusion, which perhaps is inevitable when a variety of independent contributors are involved, this now seems to have settled down.

Audio quality, though important, is secondary to content, and the latest edition of The Pod Delusion has scooped the global sceptical podcast community by releasing an interview by Jon Treadway with the new president of the James Randi Educational Foundation, D. J. Grothe. (And by the way, the audio quality is fine.)

D. J. comes to the JREF from the Center for Inquiry and the well-respected podcast Point of Inquiry. I've related elsewhere on this blog how I discovered sceptical podcasting — Skepticality was the first, but Point of Inquiry runs it a close second, and D. J. has some exciting revelations about the future of Point of Inquiry as well as sceptical podcasting from the JREF.

He also announced that there will be a second TAM London in 2010. This is great news. TAM London was a defining event for me last year and I'm delighted to hear that there will be another this year. I only hope the venue will be big enough, and that the registration will be less of a lottery.

The relevant Pod Delusion episode is available here:

or you can subscribe in iTunes here:

or with any podcatcher using this feed:

You can listen to an extended version of the D. J. Grothe interview here:

and this is also downloadable from RapidShare here:

It seems that UK scepticism is at last taking off; we've already had the relaunch of the UK Skeptic magazine, and later this month I shall be pleased to attend the inaugural Winchester Skeptics in the Pub. Things are looking up.

Saturday 9 January 2010

Forthcoming radio discussion of "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed"

Next Saturday, on Premier Christian Radio's Unbelievable? discussion programme at 2:30 pm, host Justin Brierley will be talking with Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute (and whose new book is Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design) about the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. The programme is in advance of a screening of the film that Premier are arranging concurrent with the DVD release in Britain. (Unlike in the US the film will not be on general release in the UK, but has gone straight to DVD.) I understand that Premier's screening will be followed by a debate.

When I learned of Premier's plans I posted the following on the Premier Community discussion forum:
In last week's show Justin made much of Premier's efforts to arrange a screening of the disgracefully mendacious film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. I've seen it, and I urge anyone, whether or not they've already seen the film, to check out the US National Center for Science Education's website about it, Expelled Exposed, which contains point-by-point refutations of all the claims made in this horrible production.

Also well worth your while is the unedited audio (in two parts) of a discussion between the editors of Scientific American and Mark Mathis, associate producer of Expelled.

In addition there is available a subtitle track to enable those tech-savvy enough to know what to do with it to watch the film with explanatory notes that point out each lie as it comes up (warning: it's not just here and there — it's a steady stream of text).

The history of Expelled, from its deliberate deception of its interviewees, through to its pre-release marketing and the production's manifestation of Godwin's Law from the very start*, is a sorry tale of dishonest, cynical manipulation. In short, this film stinks.
Details (venue and date) of the screening have yet to be finalised, but they will be available at the Unbelievable? website.
*Actually no. Although Godwin's Law manifests egregiously towards the end of the film, the footage at the beginning is of the Berlin Wall. In a fit of vituperation I carelessly conflated Nazis—Germany—Berlin, but I promise to try harder next time.

Thursday 7 January 2010

Burnee links for (a snowed-in) Thursday

What we need to melt the snow!Atheism is doooooomed! : Pharyngula
As for McGrath…sorry, vacuous, mealy-mouthed, and boring are not sufficient qualities to make one an authority.
I'm with PZ on this one — but that should not be a surprise!

Rabbit is the question « Exquisite With Love —
Interesting satirical take on the unknowable deity, particularly the comments to the post itself and on

Atheist Ireland Publishes 25 Blasphemous Quotes |
From 2010JAN01 blasphemy is illegal in Ireland. Congratulations, Ireland, for your giant leap backwards. (Via Pharyngula and

Skeptic » Reading Room » Seeking a New Fulcrum
David Brin's article could be a companion piece to Jason Colavito's. Brin's take on psi, in particular telepathy, is similar to my own; he's used it in his stories, as I have in mine.

The Atheist Experience: Why we need blasphemy
...and why rational people need to stand together on this issue.

TPM: The Philosophers’ Magazine | Voicing our disbelief
I agree with Russell Blackford (and I definitely recommend his book).

Reiki Distance Healing Goes to Court : Reiki Healing Information
Witchcraft? Magic spells? Alive and well — but effective?
(Via Jack of Kent)

Should the bishops be evicted from the House of Lords? — Freethinker
On Wednesday 27 January there's to be an open debate in the Houses of Parliament (Committee Room 10). I've booked my (free) ticket; it should be ... interesting.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

What would convince me of the existence of God?

In response to Manic Street Preacher's blog-post on the recent Premier Christian Radio Unbelievable? discussion between Lewis Wolpert and Russell Cowburn, I made the following comment (quoting MSP first):
I have often been asked what evidence that I as an atheist would accept for the existence of God.
I can’t say that I’ve often been asked this question, but I have heard it put to atheists enough times to make me consider what my own response would be.
And I don’t know. I think an ostensibly supernatural experience would most likely make me wonder about my sanity before I would accept that the cause of the event was divine intervention (although Lewis Wolpert’s example* would, I admit, be pretty convincing).
My answer to the direct question would probably be a request for clarification of the term “God”. I might be convinced of the deistic wind-up-the-clockwork-of-the-universe-and-throw-away-the-key type of god, but the God of Abraham seems so utterly ridiculous and untenable in so many ways, I simply have no idea what could possibly convince me of his existence, other than the most obvious, miraculous, personal revelation, in the presence of others whose sanity and corroboration I had no reason to doubt.
But really, there’s no need for me to be concerned about this. If the omni-whatever God of Abraham really exists and really wants me to believe in him, he knows perfectly well what it would take to convince me, even if I myself have no idea — and yet, so far, he appears indifferent to my lack of faith. This leads me to only one conclusion.
On a related note, I see that MSP has provoked the ire of William Dembski's Uncommon Descent bloggers (who incidentally seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick — so what's new?).
*Wolpert suggested that having his deceased wife returned to him would probably be enough.