Monthly Archives: September 2007

The Atheist Blogroll


The internet has provided a freedom for atheist expression which is either denied or restricted in most societies. Consequently there is now a large atheist presence in the form of weblogs. MoJoe, at Deep thoughts has been providing an aggregate of these blogs in the Atheist Blogroll.

Join the best atheist themed blogroll! This is a useful resource and deserves to be more widely known. Unfortunately it tends not to be indexed by search engines, probably because it usually resides in the sidebars of participating blogs. I have taken the lead of a few of these blogs by including the blogroll in this post, thereby making it available to search engines. So here they are for you to browse – you are sure to find something of value. Continue reading

Stand with Burma petition

Burmese monksFor those concerned about the current problems in Burma there is a petition organised by to urge international action in defence of the Burmese people. This from the web site:

After decades of military dictatorship, the people of Burma are rising – and they need our help. Marches begun by monks and nuns have snowballed, bringing hundreds of thousands to the streets. Now the crackdown has begun…

When the Burmese last marched in 1988, the military massacred thousands. But if the world stands up and supports their struggle, this time they could succeed. We’ll send our petition to United Nations Security Council members (including the dictatorship’s main backer China) and to media at the UN, while also alerting the Burmese to our support.

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Most ideas in science are wrong!

A recent comment on my post, Isaac Newton and intelligent design, implied that scientific explanations are seen as facts. This attitude might be true for some people – after all the scientific method has a good track record in producing theories which enable humanity to understand its surroundings, develop sophisticated technology and improve the quality of life. But describing scientific ideas or theories as facts, or attributing that belief to supporters of science (as the comment did), is a misrepresentation of science.

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Morals, values and the limits of science

We often hear the argument that science has limits – that there are questions science cannot answer, problems science cannot solve. Most scientists agree. They acknowledge that science cannot, for example, solve ethical questions. The definition of right and wrong is not a scientific task (although science may help us understand how we make that decision).

However, this argument is often accompanied by the claim that such questions are really the province of religion. I believe this claim is unjustified because there is no evidence that religion is capable of solving such problems. The claim is also basically anti-human because it denies any rights to participation of the non-religious in solving ethical and moral problems.

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Coming under the influence

Current attempts to form a new Christian political party in New Zealand do bring to mind the comment that “they couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery” (see Fresh bickering leaves Christian party in further disarray). I think many Christians are pleased to see these attempts fail. Partly because they feel that politics and religion should not be mixed in this country. But also because most Christians reject the policies of the Destiny Church and its Bishop Brian Tamaki. Current views in feedback to the NZ Herald indicate strong opposition.

New Zealanders have become familiar with the black shirt marches of Tamaki’s supporters and their attempts to create a “Christian Nation” which condones beating of children and imposition of conservative religious values.

The real ambitions of the Destiny Church, Bishop Brian Tamaki and the (now defunct) Destiny Party’s leader Richard Lewis is summed up in the Church “mission statement” prominent on the wall of their headquarters during recent TV interviews:

“Eventually everything will come under our influence.”


Related Articles:
Religious Diversity Statement
Religious diversity includes “non-believers”
Trends in religious belief in New Zealand
Destiny of Christian privilege?
Helen Clark’s diplomacy
Christian prayer problems
Special rights for religion?

Intelligent design attacks on Christianity

I have just finished reading an excellent book, Monkey Girl. It gives a good background to the attempts to introduce creationism/intelligent design into US school science classes. The 2006 Dover Kitzmiller case is covered in some detail. However, the book fills out the details with personal information on the main characters. This makes the book very readable. It’s been described as a “page-turner” and I can vouch for that.

An important message that is conveyed by this treatment of the plaintiffs, defendants, judge, lawyers and expert witnesses as real people is that the dispute is not between religion and science, or between religion and atheism. It is very much a struggle within religion, within Christianity. It is very much a defense of separation of church and state as a protection of freedom of religion, the rights of parents and children to have their own religious belief without interference from others (fellow Christians) with other religious beliefs.

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Discrimination at school

New Zealand has good Human Rights Legislation making discrimination on grounds of religion or ethical belief illegal. Despite this religious discrimination in favour of Christian beliefs occurs. Obvious examples are the use of Christian prayers in Parliament, some local councils and in state and other ceremonies which should be secular.

Religious ceremonies in public schools have been contentious and are difficult to handle. the represent an example of beliefs being imposed on an essentially defenseless group (children). Often protest or other action by a concerned parent can lead to specific actions isolating the child and inviting peer group disapproval. In my view this situation amounts to blackmail. The best solutions is to run public schools as secular institutions and not allow imposition of any non-secular ceremony on children. some parents may be unhappy about this but they do have the alternative of the non-secular private faith-based schools.

The New Zealand Human Rights Commission occasionally receives complaints about religious discrimination in schools. For instance, for the year ending June 2006 3.4% (70 cases) of the complaints it received related to unlawful discrimination on grounds of religious belief. However, they seem unable to resolve these complaints where the rights of the non-religious are being violated. The example below is taken from the September 2007 Newsletter of Te Korowai Whakapono: New Zealand Interfaith Network. (Names have been changed to protect the innocent).

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The “New Christians”

In my post Theology of the Emperor’s New Clothes I referred to the anger exhibited in many of the reviews of the recent atheist books. The best known of these books are The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), The End of Faith (Sam Harris), Letter to a Christian Nation(Sam Harris), Breaking the Spell (Daniel C. Dennett) and God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens). These sort of reviews have been parodied by Adam Roberts in a “review” of a fictional book (The Fascism Delusion by Richard Dawkins). Clearly, many religious people are responding emotionally to the current discussion of religion and belief.

Dawkins, Dennett and others have pointed out that this sort of reaction is a specific character of religion. People see religion as something that needs protection from the scrutiny normally acceptable in other fields of human endeavour. This is a bit rich, of course, given the harsh criticism of atheism religious people have made over the years. If the current interest in atheism and religion resulted in the ability to discuss these issues in a calmer way that would be a very welcome outcome.

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My senior moment!

My brainApologies to anyone attempting to make a comment and finding that non-wordpress members were excluded. I was recently checking through some of the options and clicked a box I didn’t understand. Now I do! (Perhaps this just underlines the importance to any theory of the need to test things in practice – one of my themes!). Thanks Dale for bringing the blunder to my attention.

I welcome comments and had absolutely no intention of limiting or moderating them. Only obvious spam or offensive material gets removed.

Yes, this is my brain and I have often wondered about the missing pieces.

Isaac Newton and intelligent design

A modern parable about the search for truth. (You can download a pdf version here)

Background: The great scientist Isaac Newton (1643 – 1728) developed a few simple equations descring the effect of gravity and how bodies move. He went on to explain the motion of the moon around the earth and the planets and comets around the sun, using these equations. His work showed the planets moved in a common direction and in a plane, whereas comets move more randomly. He could not explain why movement of the planets was so ordered and ended up attributing this “design” to God. He wrote: “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being.”

In this parable we imagine how Newton may have carried out his research in a modern scientific environment. He works in the Physics Department of a modern university.

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