Monday, 29 March 2010

Hitchens and Maher

Some "gloating" from Hitchens. But Hitchens is correct - this is going to get worse and worse, I'm afraid.

Ekklesia: Bishops should substantiate or desist over ‘persecution’


In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph today, a group of Church of England bishops and retired bishops / archbishop (Lord Carey; Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester; Michael Nazir-Ali, Former Bishop of Rochester; Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester; Anthony Priddis, Bishop of Hereford; and Nicholas Reade, Bishop of Blackburn) claim widespread discrimination against Christians and that:

“There have been numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.”

Predictably it has given rise to yet another misleading Sunday Telegraph headline: “Britain is persecuting Christians, say bishops”

This Britain that allegedly persecutes Christians, of course continues to afford many privileges to Christians. It has state funded church schools for example which legally and routinely discriminate in employment against those who aren’t Christians. There would be justifiable outrage if the situation were reversed with ‘secular’ state schools giving priority to atheists (or even those of other religions), in the same way.

But putting aside the institutionalised discrimination which exists in the opposite direction, what of the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals of practising Christians from employment for reasons that are unacceptable in a civilised country.” ?

To my knowledge, even the most extreme pressure groups like Christian Concern for our Nation and the Christian Legal Centre who are stoking and reinforcing the Christian persecution complex, haven’t made the claim that there have been “numerous dismissals”. So far they have pointed to only a handful of examples where there is some alleged injustice. Rarely have this small number involved dismissal. And even where (if?) they have, upon further investigation, the claims have tended to fall apart. Indeed, in one case, it even seemed to be the intervention of Christian campaigners which brought the dismissal about, after confidential client details were given to a national newspaper. In another, CLC claimed dismissal and then reinstatement, when dismissal never actually seems to have occurred.

The bishops should cite these “numerous” cases, or stop making such allegations. Why?

Continues...follow this link.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

CFI events at Oxford Lit Festival

Ben Goldacre speaking this afternoon for CFI at Oxford Literary Festical to an audience of 500. Any suggestions for next year?

Friday, 26 March 2010

What sort of faith schools are acceptable, if any? Three minimum recommendations

Photo - Grayling, Stanford and myself.

Photo courtesy of Chris Street.

On Wednesday I had a debate with Peter Stanford, former editor of the Catholic Herald about faith schools, at the CFI event "What sort of faith schools are acceptable, if any?" in the Great Hall at Christ Church. A.C. Grayling was Chair and Richard Dawkins showed up too.

Peter (after several goes by me to get him to address the specific recommendations) agreed with my three minimum recommendations that all schools, faith or not, state funded or not, should be expected to meet:

ONE. EVERY CHILD SHOULD BE CLEARLY TOLD THAT WHAT RELIGIOUS FAITH, IF ANY, THEY HAVE IS A MATTER OF THEIR OWN FREE CHOICE. Why is this important? Because, for example, a 2007 poll of young British Muslims aged 16-25 revealed 36% thought that that any Muslim who converts to another religion should be punished by death. This should apply to no-faith schools too. Many children feel they are automatically Sikh, Muslim or Catholic by birth, and have little or no choice about what they must believe, and there are British schools that reinforce perception. They should all be challenging it.


Schools are often ok about other faiths but can still be very antsy about exposing children to an atheist for half an hour (as I know from experience).

Surely, say, Catholic schools would have no problem about children being exposed to other moral points of view? Some won't. But not in diocese of Lancaster under Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue who told all Catholic schools schools that:

“Under no circumstances should any outside authority or agency that is not fully qualified to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church ever be allowed to speak to pupils or individuals on sexual or any other matter involving faith and morals”

O’Donoghue also called for any books containing polemics against the Catholic Church to be removed from school libraries. Here is a Bishop with the authority to tell the staff of state-funded schools to strip their libraries of books critical of Catholicism. Unacceptable (O'Donoghue may now be gone, but the point remains valid).


This might seem unobjectionable, but when just this was suggested by the think tank Institute of Public Policy Research back in 2004 there was outrage from the Telegraph and from Melanie Phillips.

The fact is, there are religious schools that do strongly discourage the questioning or critical examination of the school’s own faith. One example is the Islamia (Independent) School in Nottingham, run by Headmater Ibrahim Lawson. R4 Today Programme.

 IL: [t]he essential purpose of the Islamia school as with all Islamic schools is to inculcate profound religious belief in the children.
 ER: You use the word "inculcate": dies that mean you are in the business of indoctrination?
 IL: I would say so, yes; I mean we are quite unashamed about that really…
 ER: Does that mean that Islam is a given and is never challenged?
IL: That’s right…

Of course there may still be plenty of discussion and debate at a school like Ibrahim Lawson’s – about how the Koran should be interpreted, about how its teaching should be applied, and so on. But if all this vigorous intellectual activity is predicated on the unquestioned assumption that Islam is a given that must never be challenged, then it’s not good enough.

Incidentally I offered to go to Lawson's school and talk (for free) about atheism and humanism for an hour with his kids. The school wouldn't allow it.

I am now thinking it would be useful if we could get a coalition of people of various faiths and none to endorse these three minimum requirements - and to press for their introduction. Many liberal religious people would surely do so (Stanford has said yes in principle). So would the guys at Ekklesia, I think. But of course many religious conservatives will not (Ibrahim Lawson won't and neither would the Chief Rabbi, I think). This would be a way of reorienting the debate about faith schools as a debate between liberals vs conservatives, rather than atheists vs religious, which would be very constructive, I think.

The British public are increasingly concerned about faith schools - about their growth and what goes on in them. The vast majority, I would guess, would support the introduction of these requirements. A campaign organized along these lines might well have a result.

Simon Singh speaking

Simon Singh speaking at the CFI event "Trick or Treatment" at Oxford Literary festival last night. Today we have "Does the universe point to God?" with the scientist the Rev John Polkinghorne and atheist philosopher Prof David Papineau. 2pm in the Big Marquee, Christ Church Oxford. £10 (tickets at venue)

Thursday, 25 March 2010

New pharmacy code continues opt-outs over beliefs

Pharmacists across the UK have been told they can continue to refuse to prescribe items that might clash with their personal religious beliefs.

A revised code of conduct from the new industry regulator will allow staff to opt out of providing items such as the morning-after pill and contraception.

Continues here.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Has God a Future?

Has God a Future, debate. Shermer says "I can't prove a negative" at the start, which was disappointment. But bear with it...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

CFI events at Oxford Literary Festival next week

What Sort of Faith Schools Are Acceptable, If Any? Stephen Law vs Peter Stanford

Wed March 24th, 6pm. Main Hall, Christ Church.

Do faith schools help build communities, or divide them? Do they educate, or indoctrinate? Do they raise principled moral citizens, or dangerous moral sheep? Should a school that discriminates against staff and pupils on the basis of faith receive state funding?

Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald, and an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. His biographies have included Lord Longford, C Day-Lewis, Bronwen Astor and the Devil. His latest book, The Extra Mile: The 21st-century Pilgrim, is published in March. Peter had two children at faith schools and is a foundation governor of one.

Stephen Law is a philosopher and the author of a book on faith schools called The War for Children's Minds. Stephen will argue that the state funding of faith schools should be abolished, and that every child at every school should be reminded regularly that religious belief is something each one of them is free to accept or reject. Indeed, Stephen is not convinced faith schools should be permitted at all.

Simon Singh – Trick or Treatment?

Blue Boar 6pm. Thursday 25th March.

Simon Singh is the science author responsible for a string of best-sellers that include Big Bang, Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Code Book. In his latest book, Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, Singh and his co-author Professor Edzard Ernst subjects a number of alternative medicines to critical scrutiny, investigating what works and what doesn’t. Singh is currently being sued by the British Chiropractic Association for questioning the evidence behind some chiropractic treatments. This has become a landmark legal case, of huge importance to the scientific community, many of whom (e.g. Richard Dawkins) believe English libel law has now become a threat to open scientific debate. Singh will be discussing the significance of this ongoing legal case, now being widely reported in the media.

Ben Goldacre

Sat 27th Garden Marquee, 2pm.

Ben Goldacre is the award winning writer, broadcaster, and medical doctor who writes the weekly Bad Science column in the Guardian. Goldacre is widely known for his scathing, satirical attacks on medical quacks, health scares, mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-science, and his book Bad Science has become a best-seller. His approach is passionate, charming, funny and merciless. While investigating television nutritionist Gillian McKeith's membership of the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, Goldacre bought a "certified professional membership" on behalf of his deceased cat, Henrietta, from the same institution for $60.

Does Science Reveal The Mind of God? Polkinghorne vs Papineau

Friday 26th March. 2pm, Garden Marquee.

After a distinguished career, John Polkinghorne retired as a Professor of Physics to study for Church of England Ministry, becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1982. He is the author of several books arguing that science is not in conflict with religion. Polkinghorne suggests that God is the answer to the question of "why is there something rather than nothing?" and that "theism explains more than a reductionist atheism can ever address." David Papineau is Professor of Philosophy at King’s College London, one of the country’s foremost philosophers and atheists, and the author of the excellent philosophy primer, Philosophy: Essential Tools For Critical Thought. Debate chaired by Stephen Law (Provost, Centre for Inquiry UK).

Richard Wiseman – Science of The Weird

Sunday 27th Blue Boar, 4pm.

An introduction to the science of the weird - from psychic powers to fire walking. Prof Richard Wiseman has gained an international reputation for research into quirky areas of psychology, including deception, humour, luck and the paranormal. He is also a trained magician, providing wonderfully entertaining and interactive events that help audiences sharpen their thinking and observational skills and spot more easily when someone may be trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Prof Wiseman is author of The Luck Factor – a best selling book exploring the lives and minds of lucky people.

To book tickets go to

Friday, 12 March 2010

Free speech is increasingly under attack in the world's most populous democracy

Free speech is increasingly under attack in the world's most populous democracy.
BY SALIL TRIPATHI | Wall Street Journal, Mar 12 2010

Indians boast of living in the world's most populous democracy, and rightly so. Regular elections and vigorous public debate are a rebuke to anyone who thinks that liberty can't flourish in a large, largely poor, culturally and linguistically diverse country. But in one area of life officials' concerns for keeping peace between various religious and ethnic groups is threatening a core freedom: speech.

In a little-noticed case on Feb. 26, police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh arrested Macha Laxmaiah, an author who writes using the pseudonym Krantikar ("revolutionary"), and his distributors, including Innaiah Narisetti, president of the Hyderabad-based nonprofit Center for Inquiry, for "hurting the sentiments of Muslims." Their alleged crime? The distribution of "Crescent Over the World," a book including contributions from Salman Rushdie, Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, and a cartoon from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. Mr. Narisetti is out on bail now; Mr. Laxmaiah remains in custody.

Continues here.

Narisetti is a friend of mine and a CFI representative.