Friday, 28 May 2010

"God has an intelligent plan for how we will all die..."

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The Onion does it again... almost makes you wish there was an organisation called Armageddon in the Classroom:

Christian Groups: Biblical Armageddon Must Be Taught Alongside Global Warming

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Martin Rowson: Creations in Bad Faith

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We're very excited about an exhibition of Martin Rowson's work for New Humanist, which we're hosting at the Menier Gallery in Southwark from 8-12 June. The exhibition, "Creations in Bad Faith", is free to attend and will be open from 10am-6pm each day, except for Saturday the 12th when it closes at 4pm (there's the small matter of an England match that evening anyway).

But the really exciting news is that all our readers are invited to attend a special private view and chairty auction on 8 June, 6.30-9pm, when Laurie Taylor will wield the gavel and give you the chance to get your hands on your very own orignal piece of Martin Rowson artwork. There will, of course, be some booze and food to help loosen your checkbooks, so if you're interested in attending download the invitation from our site (PDF).

It should be great fun. As Laurie says, "Martin Rowson skewers the lies, hypocrisies and pious platitudes of organised religion with quite enough sacriligious relish to secure him a prominent place in Hell. Bang next to Voltaire."

Richard Gregory RIP

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We are very sad to hear of the death of neuropsychologist Professor Richard Gregory. He was a grounding breaking scientist particularly in the field of perception and the brain, a great champion of science, an expert educator and communicator and a very nice man to boot. Here's something he wrote for us about perception in 2008. Details of his life, work and his "FUNeral" can be found on his website.

"Details are not Harun Yahya's strong suit..."

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We were pleased to hear that our old friend Adnan Oktar, aka Harun Yahya, author of that fine scientific reference work Atlas of Creation and subject of our 2009 investigation into his Islamic creationist sex cult, has been, in some respects, holding a few conferences in the heathen nation of Switzerland. I say "in some respects", as he's having to conduct them via video-link on account of currently being banned from leaving his native Turkey due to ongoing legal problems (i.e. his conviction for running a criminal organisation).

So are the Swiss grateful that Oktar has chosen to share his wisdom with them? Not if this report by World Radio Switzerland is anything to go by – it begins with the line "As I walked in to Harun Yahya's conference on creationism last night in Lausanne, people were walking out."

So what did those opting to take an early bath make of Oktar's ideas. "It's just so stupid," one erstwhile attendee told the reporter. "There's logic. There's no structure. Nothing." The report then features a zoologist refuting Oktar's "ideas" (not something we'd view as a fruitful exercise - we long ago identified that creationism isn't the real story here), which leads to the reporter making a classic understatement by saying "Details are not Harun Yahya's strong suit, however". The report ends with mention of Oktar's murky legal difficulties – to learn more on those, read our expose.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Spanish musician prosecuted for blasphemy

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Ismael Valladolid Torres, a Madrid-based New Humanist reader who writes his own Spanish humanist blog, "La media hostia" (roughly translated, it means "Half a wafer"), got in touch to inform me about the prosecution for blasphemy of Javier Krahe (pictured), a well-known Spanish singer-songwriter and artist. Naturally, the story sounded of interest to us, so I asked Ismael to fill me in, as there is little online about it in English. Here's his account:
Javier Krahe is one of the most popular left wing singer-songwriters in Spain, but he also likes to express himself in other artistic ways.
In 1978 he recorded this funny and admittedly blasphemous clip called "Cooking Christ". You can see how Christ is cut up, spread with butter and put into the oven, before getting out on the third day. A delicious dish!


On 15 December 2004, Spanish channel Canal+ showed the clip as a part of an interview with Krahe. According to right wing site HazteOir, Canal+ received more than 10,000 letters protesting about the broadcast. Now the Thomas More Law Studies Center has presented a criminal prosecution stating that broadcasting such material goes against Article 525 of the Spanish Penal Code, which punishes offending religious beliefs. The court now asks Krahe to pay €192,000, and the TV channel to pay €144.000.
In the past, many Spanish artists have had to leave their country in order to make use of freedom of expression, from Luis Buñuel to Pablo Picasso and others. It's amazing that more than half a century later, things in this country haven't changed.
There's a Facebook group in support of Krahe, although you'll need to be able to read Spanish to know exactly what you're joining. It seems like a fascinating and worrying story, and I'll be asking Ismael to keep us up to date from Spain. It's interesting to see that, following the attention Ireland attracted this year with the introduction of blasphemy legislation, such laws are posing problems elsewhere in Europe. I've often wondered how European human rights legislation might conlifct with such archaic laws - for instance, I always figured the British blasphemy law was defunct even before it's removal, as a prosecution wouldn't stand up in light of human rights legislation. If anyone has any informed opinions on this, I'd be fascinated to hear them.

Rationalists release sober World Cup analysis

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I must apologise for the lack of blogging – I've been away for a couple of weeks. It was nice to see on my return that the Church of England have caught a dose of World Cup fever and released a series of prayers for devotees to turn to once the tournaments gets underway on 11 June.

The prayers are the work of the Bishop of Croydon, Nick Baines, who appears to have steered clear of accusations of football tribalism by avoiding asking for divine intervention in England's campaign. (Seems strange to me – if the Church of England isn't there to secure miracles for Stevie G and co, what is it there for?) There are two prayers calling for God's general blessing for the World Cup, and another for non-football fans frustrated by the tournament's month-long hegemony. Here's the first of the three:
Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being,

guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup.

May all find in this competition a source of celebration,

an experience of common humanity and

a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others.

Amen.
I particularly like the first line, with the idea that God "played the cosmos into being" – sounds like God created the universe with a classy through ball (or perhaps a deft one-two with JC, though I may be getting theologically confused with that one).

All of which had me thinking – what are we doing for readers looking forward to the World Cup? Well, if the Church of England can offer prayers, we can offer some cold, rationalist analysis. So here goes (non-England fans will have to forgive the focus of this one, I'm afraid).

Group stages: Empiricism has historically played an important role in rationalism, and looking at Group C, where England will come up against the USA, Algeria and Slovenia, it would be very difficult to present a rational argument, based on past experience, statistics and the quality of players available, for England failing to progress. So we say, put aside your irrational fears, rejoice or despair at the sheer number of live games available during the groups, and look forward to England's assault on the knock-out stages.

Last 16: With the work of Enlightenment figures such as David Hume and John Stuart Mill reassuring us of England's safe passage from Group C, our thoughts turn to potential opponents in the first knock-out round. Consultation with our office wallchart (kindly provided by a printing company, who have clearly anticipated their clients' main focus in the coming weeks), and further application of rational analysis, tells us that England, if they win Group C, will likely face Serbia, Australia or Ghana. (Here's a link to the Daily Mirror's downloadable wallchart, should you feel like consulting one). None would represent an easy game (after all, are there, err, y'know, any easy games, Gary?), but if we're keeping things rational, England should have the players and the Italian tactical nous to see off those opponents. A second-placed finish in Group C (which would frankly already mean that rationalism has let us down) might leave England facing arch-rivals Germany – a daunting prospect, but with the Germans missing some key players and lacking a credible strike-force, it's possible they could be overcome (not that you should ever, um, write the Germans off, Alan).

Quarter finals: So we've seen off all-comers and the quarter-finals beckon. Irrational superstition and blunt historical fact would suggest that penalty shoot-out ignominy awaits, but we're supposed to be analysing things rationally, aren't we. The most likely scenario has England facing France – past winners, sure, but they're only in the tournament by virtue of a Thierry Henry handball, and they've arguably become somthing of a joke under manager Raymond Domenech, who was last seen by many international fans proposing to his girlfriend live on TV immediately after his side had been eliminated from Euro 2008. He also has a tendency to use astrology to help him pick his side (Scorpios are out of luck, apparently) so, if this is about rationality, we're backing Fabio's cool calculation to win the day and see England through to a first semi-final since Euro '96.

Semi-finals: Potential opponents become increasingly hard to call at this point, but they could include Italy, Spain, Holland or Brazil. Sorry, rationalism can't help anymore.

Time to start praying, perhaps?

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Denialism is on the rise. No its isn't. Yes it bloody is!

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From Climate change to AIDS, the Holocaust to 9/11, denialism seems to be proliferating. Why? And what is the difference between principled scepticism and denial? And is denialism a useful term or a way to close down debate? Keith Kahn-Harris explores these and other issues in his article from the current issue Unreasonable Doubt.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Does quantum physics confirm esoteric Hindusim?

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Jay Lakhani, head of the Hindu Council in the UK thinks it does, and says so in the new issue of New Humanist. Has he got his science right? Is he right that Hinduism had a sounder intimation about the real state of the world than materialism? Should questions always come in threes?
Answers below please.

Update - in our July issue, we asked physicist Mano Singham to respond. He says Lakhani gets the physics wrong.

Friday, 14 May 2010

How do astronauts go to the loo?

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One aspect of toilets not covered by Sally Feldman in her otherwise comprehensive Going to the Ladies:

Friday link: The girl who cries blood and 1000 ex-scientologists

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Our friend Sanal Edamaruku (right), head of the brilliant Indian Rationalist Association, has a piece over on the Guardian site about his latest bit of live TV debunking - the supposed miracle of a girl who cries blood (in 2008 he wrote about how he challenged a guru to kill him on live TV for us).

And here is a great thing: a growing wikipedia list of more than 1000 ex-scientologists who are all now fierce critics of the "Church", with links to their many court cases, complaints and testimony. As we predicted a few months back, the anti-Scientology storm is gathering and not before time.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Abandon hope all ye who click here

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The day a Tory takes the reins of the country seems the appropriate day to celebrate the uses of pessimism, even if it is a Tory doing the celebrating (those who have read him will know that Roger Scruton is no ordinary conservative but a very principled and elegant, and annoyingly persuasive, thinker about ethics and the contemporary world).

Feel free to leave a gloomy comment.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Watch the impact of an act of God

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This lovely little video shows the impact of the Ash cloud on European flights - it starts in darkness when flights were cancelled and then gradually comes (back) to life. The abiding impression is not how odd it was when we were all grounded, but how frenetic the normal pattern of air traffic really is.


Airspace Rebooted from ItoWorld on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Eric Kaufmann, Dominic Lawson and Laurie Taylor talk religious demographics

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If you missed last month's New Humanist event at the RSA in London, featuring Eric Kaufmann, who's thesis about the demographic rise of fundamentalism has been widely discussed (most recently by Kenan Malik in The Observer), with Dominic Lawson responding and Laurie Taylor chairing, you can watch it below or find it on Youtube