Ladies and gentleman, the time has come. For months now, nominations have been pouring in for those most deserving of our prestigious Bad Faith Award, presented each year to the person deemed to have made the most outstanding contribution to the cause of unreason.
Last year saw a runaway victory for erstwhile US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (oh those halcyon days, when she was a mere election and a heart attack away from the nuclear codes). Of course, Palin was always a frontrunner in that contest (Bad Faith, that is), but this year's poll may well be more closely contested. Drawn from nominations we've received online, by email and by post, as well some of our own based on another year of tackling the forces of irrationalism in the pages of New Humanist, here's the shortlist, in alphabetical order, of the 10 enemies of reason ready to battle it out for the ultimate prize:
Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya: The Islamic world's leading creationist charlatan will be looking to go one better than last year's second place finish, when he polled a staggering 1,091 votes on the back of his attempt to have Richard Dawkins' website banned in Turkey. Oktar must fancy his chances this year though – back in 2008, we mostly knew him as the producer of slapdash creationist literature, but in 2009 the stakes have surely been raised by his exposure in our own pages as the leader of what essentially amounts to a creationist sex cult. If you're looking for a good reason to vote Oktar, look no further than the many comments left by his minions on this blog post.
Anjem Choudary: This man surely represents Islamic extremism at its most ludicrous. He's the self-styled "judge" of the "Shari’ah Court of the UK", and a former leading member of Omar Bakri Muhammad's banned extremist organisation Al-Muhajiroun. Earlier this year he tried to restart that organisation with a meeting at London's Conway Hall, which is somewhat ironically the home of British freethought, using his heavies to try and enforce a spot of Sharia-style gender separation on the building. He recently called off a planned march to demand Sharia law for the UK, having earlier revealed on his website how Trafalgar Square would look once Britain is under Islamic rule: he'd replace Nelson's statue with a clock, while down the road Buckingham Palace would "be converted into a beautiful mosque".
Anthony Bush: Proprietor of Noah's Ark Zoo Farm, the creationist zoo on the outskirts of Bristol which we investigated in the September/October issue of New Humanist. Has grand designs for "Creation + Evolution", his very own theory for how life on earth developed, telling New Humanist: "Our paradigm is radical, but may, as Galileo’s did, take many years for people to take seriously." But it's not just creationism that has put Anthony in the media spotlight – it was alleged in October that Noah's Ark breeds animals for Britain's last live-animal circus, and that the head of a tiger which died in childbirth was stored in a freezer at the zoo. Noah's Ark has just been suspended from the British zoo association, pending an investigation into the allegations.
The British Chiropractic Association: An unusual candidate, since the Bad Faith Award is generally aimed at individuals, but there was no way we could leave out the organisation which has arguably done more than any other to put the problem of Britain's illiberal libel laws in the public eye. Unintentionally, of course – the BCA are currently trying to sue science writer Simon Singh for libel, after he described as "bogus" their claims that chiropractic can treat childhood conditions like colic and asthma. Extra credit must surely go to them too for accidentally appearing to libel Singh back via a foolishly premature press release.
Cormac Murphy O'Connor: As he prepared to make way for Vincent Nichols as Archbishop of Westminster, the former head of the Catholic Church in England bid us all farewell by branding atheists as "not fully human".
Dermot Aherne: Ireland stepped back in time a few centuries earlier this year when a law was passed making blasphemy a crime punishable with a fine of €25,000. As the Irish Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Dermot Aherne was the man responsible for introducing it. For the inside story on why the law was passed, read Newton Emerson's view in our September issue.
Damian Thompson: Telegraph blogger and editor-in-chief of the Catholic Herald is no fan of atheists. In fact, he doesn't seem to be a fan of anything, unless it's Catholic (and even then, only if it's conservative and backed by Pope Benedict XVI). We've had our own run in with him before over God Trumps ("politically correct atheist cowards", I believe he called us), and he recently described Richard Dawkins as "vicious and crazy" for having the audacity to criticise the Catholic Church. The blogger The Heresiarch, who nominated Thompson for Bad Faith, hit back by pointing out that "Thompson's house style of triumphalist, sneering, ultra-papalist camp ... does more damage to the image of Catholicism than Richard Dawkins ever could". Thompson was also nominated by sceptic Richard Wilson on account of the opinions he expressed in blog posts such as this. And, just as I was compiling this list, Damian shored up his claim to the Bad Faith Award by declaring a wish to burn an effigy of national treasure Stephen Fry on a bonfire.
Pope Benedict XVI: The Pope was up for the award in 2007, but failed to make the shortlist in 2008. Having stated in March that AIDS "is a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, and that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems", could 2009 finally be his year?
Terry Eagleton and Karen Armstrong: An unusual double nomination, this – one's an ex-trainee nun and a scholar of religion, the other's a combative Marxist literary critic. The link is that both have written books this year criticising the New Atheists and mounting what some might call a more sophisticated defence of religion – see Richard Norman's piece on the subject in our current issue, and Laurie Taylor's interview with Eagleton from our July issue ("God didn't create the world. He loved it into being. Now what that means, God knows, but that's exactly what Aquinas was saying"). As a result, the two academics have been nominated for the Bad Faith Award by "Valdemar" for "attacking Enlightenment values from the well-padded comfort of Enlightenment institutions". Ouch!
Tony Blair: Another repeat nominee. Last year our former PM was put forward on account of his round-the-world interfaith quest, and that's something he's continued this year, in between making millions from after-dinner speeches and consulting roles with global corporations. And trying to bring about peace in the Middle East. Oh, and trying to become President of Europe. What's probably earned Tony his nomination this year is a speech he made in October, in which he suggested that the major world religions should work together in the face of "an aggressive secular attack from without".
So, there you have it – it's a strong shortlist, and there's sure to be some fierce competition between now and the New Year, when we will announce the person (or organisation) who has been crowned 2009's most scurrilous enemy of reason. You can place your vote now using the poll at the top right of this page.
To help get things moving, we've once again asked our in-house rationalist bookmakers Paddy Gowers to price up the runners and riders for the Bad Faith Award:
Adnan Oktar 7/2 F; Pope Benedict XVI 8/1; British Chiropractic Association 10/1; Anjem Choudary 10/1; Damain Thompson 12/1, Anthony Bush 14/1, Dermot Aherne 16/1, Cormac Murphy O'Connor 25/1, Tony Blair 40/1, Terry Eagleton & Karen Armstrong 50/1.