Category Archives: religion

Religious instruction scrapped from school curriculum in Victoria

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Religious instruction scrapped from curriculum – what a great headline to see in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, it is just for the Australian state of Victoria. But it could well happen here, considering the opposition to religious instruction in state schools we are seeing in New Zealand.

Victorian schools are scrapping special religious instruction from class time to make way for new content on world histories, cultures, faiths and ethics. The changes to the state’s curriculum raise doubts about the future of the controversial religious instruction program.

The state government said “Extracurricular programs should not interfere with class time when teachers and students should be focused on the core curriculum.”  And curriculum changes mean that classes addressing domestic violence and respectful relationships will also become compulsory for all prep to year 10 students from 2016.

I certainly consider these subjects that are a far more important and necessary use of school time.

The changes mean that he weekly 30 minute religious instruction program will move to lunchtime and before and after school in 2016. Mind you, that opens up the possibility that other religious sects (and, heaven forbid, non-religious ones) may demand equal time for their own presence on school property for lunchtime and before and after school indoctrination opportunities.

These changes are welcomed by teachers – and no doubt by many parents. Lara Wood, a spokeswoman for Fairness in Religions in School, a group that has spent the past four years campaigning against SRI, claimed victory. “We won, we got what we wanted.”

She said religious instruction providers were proselytising in primary schools while students missed out on learning. This has been a common complaint from parents because the chaplaincy organisation involved is well-known for its evangelical orientation and attempts to convert children.

But, predictably, this move is opposed by some religious organisations – including the chaplaincy organisation Access Ministries, the main provider of religious instruction.

In New Zealand, the Secular education network (NZ) is working towards the same ends as the Australian Fairness in Religions in Schools. I hope we can see similar successes here in the near future.

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Progress in removing religious instruction from public schools?

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Image credit: rethinking schools

Looks like we might be making a bit of progress in attempts to establish a genuine secular education system in New Zealand.

There are reports that “secular education advocates have had a win in their fight against the Bible in Schools programme.”

The Secular Education Network has been asking for months for removal of sectarian religious instruction classes from public schools. They have now been given access to guidelines the Ministry of education may suggest to resolve the problem.

Network spokesman David Hines said schools would be encouraged to end religious instruction during class time.

“And instead have it at lunch, or after school. Parents would also have to give written permission before they could get put in these classes. They are suggested guidelines. But these are both problem areas, so it’s good that they’re addressing those,” he said.

Apparently the suggested guidelines would also make it clear religious instruction is not part of the New Zealand Curriculum and would discourage religious observances in school assemblies. The Ministry will also consider how to raise awareness about the difference between religious instruction and religious education.

So this is progress. Religious instruction will be relegated to an out-of-school-hours activity like sport. Hopefully, there will also be changes to make this an opt-in choice and not the current opt-out system where parents requests are often ignored.

I agree with the Secular Education Network that there is a place for religious education (and education of other belief systems) in schools but this is very different to religious instruction which is a form of dogmatic brainwashing.

Clearly this is an ongoing process of negotiation by of the Education Ministry with concerned parents and schools. I just hope this progress is confirmed and there is no backsliding.

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Something to consider

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Social health policies, freedom of choice and responsibility

Social health policies inevitably raise the issue of the individual’s freedom of choice. While debates around these policies often concentrate on questions of fact, scientific consensus and reliability of evidence, these tend to be surrogates for the underlying values issues. To what extent should I sacrifice my freedom of choice, or my freedom of choice to decide for my children, for the good health of the community? And what if my freedom of choice violates the freedom of choice for others?

hall-offit-fullPaul Offit discussed these issues in a recent Point of Inquiry podcast – Paul Offit, MD, on Measles in the Magic Kingdom and the Anti-Vaccine Movement. He is a Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia. Offit is the author of the book Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine.

He basically talks about the spread of measles throughout California and neighboring states because of a source of infection at Disneyland. Although measles were eliminated in the U.S. by 2000, the misinformation of the anti-vaccine movement has caused a return of a full-fledged outbreak.

Levels of responsibility and consequences

Paul makes the comparison of opposition to vaccination with opposition to blood transfusion.

1: Blood transfusions. A person my refuse to accept treatment involving blood transfusion because of their personal religious beliefs. More questionably they may refuse on behalf of their children. However, the consequences are limited to the person or her child. The decision does not harm the community at large.

2: Vaccinations. A person may refuse a measles vaccination for themselves or their children. But in this case the consequences are not personal – they affect the whole of society. By lowering the degree of immunisation in the community they threaten the lives of others – particularly the most vulnerable, children.

In these two cases the person has refused an intervention, a medical treatment or vaccination, which could be seen to violate their freedom of choice – or even to violate their body. In the first case the consequences are personal, limited to the person who made the wrong decision. But in the second case the consequences are social. An personal wrong decision has taken away the freedom of choice, the health and in some cases the lives, of others in society.

A bit like the personal decision to drive on the wrong side of the road. Society has taken away a small personal freedom of choice in our road rules to protect the lives of all of us.

3: Fluoridation. Social health policies like community fluoridation of water, salt, milk, etc., are recognised as being safe, beneficial and cost-effective. But they are opposed by a vocal minority. Activists will passionately promote the freedom of choice argument and, considering they don’t have the scientific evidence on their side this is often seen as their strongest argument. After all, it is values-based and therefore can’t be tested and rejected by evidence.

But, this third case is different to the other 2.

  • The act of fluoridation or not is social, taken by society as a whole or their representatives. An person may contribute to the decision but cannot decide the issue by a personal action as they can with vaccinations or blood transfusions. Although individual political action, or dissemination of information or misinformation, may influence that social decision – and hence the social consequences.
  • Fluoridation does not involve an intervention or treatment, medical or otherwise. No one is forced to drink fluoridated water or milk, or to consume fluoridated salt. The freedom of choice argument is invalid here because there are always alternatives.

Despite actively promoting the freedom of choice argument even the NZ anti-fluoride activist Fluoride Free NZ provides information on these atlernatives. They list alternative water sources, distillation, ion exchange filters and reverse osmosis. Most of these choices are cheap and available.

So what is driving anti-fluoridation propagandists?

Unlike opponents to blood transfusion they cannot argue freedom of choice to refuse an intervention on religious grounds. There is no intervention. The only personal imposition is that they may wish to buy a water filter (many already have these) or buy water from a different source.

Again, unlike opponents of vaccination they cannot argue freedom of choice to refuse an intervention even on grounds of personal belief – because there is no personal intervention.

Given the lack of any forced or personal intervention I am forced to conclude the freedom of choice issue that concerns the anti-fluoride activists is their freedom of choice to decide the oral health quality of other members of their community. And given the health and scientific expert consensus on the issue they are really arguing for their freedom of choice to decide the oral health of others on the grounds of their own minority personal beliefs or convictions.

In last year’s High Court judgement on the question of fluoridation in South Tarinaki, Justice Hansen wrote:

“Provided it does not have consequences for public health a person has the right to make even the poorest decisions in respect of their own health. But where the state, either directly or through local government, employs public health interventions, the right is not engaged. Were it otherwise, the individual’s right to refuse would become the individual’s right to decide outcomes for others. It would give any person a right of veto over public health measures which it is not only the right but often the responsibility of local authorities to deliver.”

The freedom of choice the anti-fluoride activists are promoting is their freedom of choice to decide health outcomes for others – not themselves.

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Stephen Fry not pulling any punches

Stephen Fry on God | The Meaning Of Life | RTÉ One – YouTube.

Stephen Fry has a great skill of getting right to the core of an issue.

Here he answers the question of what he, as an atheist, would say if he ended up at the gates of heaven.

Sunday reading – Richard Dawkins reads some of his “fan mail”

This is a more recent version of Richard Dawkins reading some of his “fan mail.”

Don’t remember much of the first batch he read – but get the impression the language skills of fundamentalists has become even poorer in the intervening period.

Warning – explicit language.

via Love Letters to Richard Dawkins – YouTube.

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Creationist ‘audits’ science museum

Imagine you are 10 years old and your crazy aunt is taking you out for a treat.

A crazy aunt can be fun. Problem is this aunt is also a creationist and she is taking you to the local natural history museum.

Well it never happened to me (not that I didn’t have a crazy aunt) but I imagine this is what it would be like.

The museum is the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History – looks great.

Thanks to: Christian Fundamentalist Goes To Science Museum To ‘Audit’ Its Liberal Bias, Makes Ass Of Self VIDEO.

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Sad news – Victor Stenger has died

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I was sad to read that Victor Stenger died during the week at the age of 79.

Victor was a prolific author, writing on science, religion and philosophy. He often dealt with difficult issues coming out of the religion-science debates and was always able to explain complex subjects very effectively for the layperson.

In his retirement, after a career in particle physics research, Stenger took to writing popular books in science, religion and philosophy and participating in the public discussion and debate of these issues. Although not as prominent as the people usually called the “New Atheists” he was one of that group. In fact he wrote a book  titled The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason. (See my review of this book at Defending science and reason).

Victor was also well-known for public debates with religious apologists like William Lane Craig and Hugh Ross. I believe his role in these were important because of his ability to explain particle and cosmological physics and thereby show how these apologists had been distorting the science. Readers interested in watching some of these debates will be able to find them on YouTube.

I suppose it is fitting that Victor Stenger was writing till the end. He died with one book waiting to be published – God and the Multiverse: Humanity’s Expanding View of the Cosmos.

Victor will be missed not only by his family and people who knew him, but also by many readers.

I urge interested readers to read one or more of his popular science book. Wikipedia lists the following –  all published by Prometheus Books:

See also:
Victor Stenger, Physicist and Prolific Atheist Author, is Dead at 79
Victor Stenger has died.

The links below are to my own reviews of a few of Victor Stenger’s books:

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The Mind of the Science Denier

Over recent months I have been following, and learning more about, the issues of fluoridation and the Ukrainian civil war. One is a scientific issue (at least in most of the debate), the other political. Yet in the social media discussions both issues are dominated by motivated reasoning, cherry-picking, confirmation bias and outright prejudice. The same thing is going on in both issues and in many cases show denial, the favouring of belief over facts and evidence.

Donald Prothero points out that this is just human nature. We are not “rational machines,” and, if we are honest, we should all be able to recognises these faults in our own approaches, no matter how sceptical and scientific we think we are.

Prothero presented an interesting talk at the recent Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas, he deals mainly with creationism, climate change denial and anti-vaccination beliefs but the lessons have much wider applicability.

He has some great cartoons in his lecture. But I also liked how he drew lessons from his analysis about how supporters of science and scepticism should deal with discussions when science denial occurs. Simple antagonistic argument and debunking is usually not effective. We need to recognise the beliefs and values underlying the denial and respond to those.

TAM2014 – Donald Prothero – The Mind of the Science Denier.

The lecture is based on part of Prothero’s recent book Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future.

 

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New group challenging the anti-science brigade

Here’s a recent press release from a new group, The Society for Science Based Healthcare, which is having some successes in challenging anti-scientific advertising.


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Controversial Church Caught Red Handed

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld three complaints from the newly formed Society for Science Based Healthcare today regarding misleading health claims.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, DailyDo and Pure Wellbeing have all been asked by the ASA to remove adverts that make misleading health claims.

The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which was recently embroiled in controversy regarding claims that its holy oil could heal a variety of serious health problems, has had a second complaint upheld against it. Bishop Victor Silva, when responding to a previous successful ASA complaint, had promised that:

“When we come to hold another similar event, we will take external advice as to the content of any promotional material to doubly ensure that it is fully compliant with all regulation and that there is no chance of another complaint of this nature.”

Despite these assurances, within 3 weeks of this promise the church sent out another advertisement for a “chain of prayer” series of events. This advert claimed that “IT WORKS!” and that a “HEALING” session covered cases such as “When doctors & medicines are not enough” and “incurable diseases”. A majority of the complaints board agreed that “the Advertiser had presented their religious beliefs in evangelical healing as an absolute fact, rather than opinion, and may mislead and deceive vulnerable people who may be suffering from any of the illnesses listed in the advertisement”. The board ruled to uphold the complaint.

DailyDo, a daily deals website, advertised amber teething necklaces with phrases such as “Traditional homeopathic treatment for teething babies, designed to help provide relief”. As the advertiser was unable to provide any evidence to support their claims, the ASA ruled that “the advertisement was misleading and had not been prepared with the high standard of social responsibility required for products with intended therapeutic use”.

This is the latest in a long series of successful complaints regarding misleading health claims about amber beads, which resulted in a new ANZA guideline being written. In response to the complaint, the ASA has sent a copy of this guideline to other “one day deal” sites.

A number of advertisers of these products, such as Baa Baa Beads, have had complaints upheld against them but have refused to remove their misleading claims. Now that the Fair Trading Act has been recently updated to prohibit unsubstantiated claims in trade, the Society for Science Based Healthcare hopes that the Commerce Commission will step in to put a stop to claims such as these. The Society intends to file a complaint with the Commerce Commission against companies that continue to make these misleading claims.

The Pure Wellbeing website advertised Detox Foot Patches, claiming that they could remove “toxins” and heavy metals “By stimulating the reflexology points and the blood circulation”. Because the advertiser failed to provide any evidence that the claims they were making were true, the complaints board ruled that the advertisement was misleading and must therefore be removed, upholding the complaint made against it.

There were also two settled complaints from the Society for Science Based Healthcare, against a homeopathy advert by Ngaio Health and a colour therapy advert by Colour Therapy Manukau. Both companies had claimed that they were able to treat serious health conditions such as cancer, but did not substantiate these claims. In both cases the company agreed to remove the claims.

The Society for Science Based Healthcare welcomes these decisions, and hopes that the advertisers involved will take them to heart and refrain from making misleading health claims in the future. These are the latest in a long line of complaints about misinformation regarding healthcare, and as there is still plenty of misinformation out there you can expect to hear more from the Society in the future.


About the Society for Science Based Healthcare

The Society for Science Based Healthcare is a newly formed consumer advocacy group that aims to protect consumers’ rights to make informed healthcare decisions. Although the society itself is new, over the past 2 years its founders have lodged over 50 successful complaints with the ASA regarding misleading health claims, dealing with products and services ranging from chiropractic and acupuncture to magnetic mattress underlays and a quantum magnetic health analyser.

Mission statement

“We believe that a strong basis in rigorous science is a necessary prerequisite for providing safe and effective healthcare. Decisions regarding public funding of healthcare in New Zealand should therefore be science based. We support public health measures that have a clear basis in science and evidence, and oppose those that do not.
We will work to counter misinformation about health issues propagated by individuals and organisations in New Zealand.
Consumers have the right to make an informed decision about their healthcare, and should not have to worry about being misled by unsubstantiated claims.”

Relevant links

Society for Science Based Healthcare – http://sbh.org.nz
Advertising Standards Authority – http://www.asa.co.nz
Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – http://www.uckg.co.nz/
DailyDo – http://www.dailydo.co.nz/
Pure Wellbeing – http://www.purewellbeing.co.nz/

Upheld Complaints:
http://asa.co.nz/display.php?ascb_number=14219
http://asa.co.nz/display.php?ascb_number=14205
http://asa.co.nz/display.php?ascb_number=14250

Settled Complaints:
http://asa.co.nz/display.php?ascb_number=14266
http://asa.co.nz/display.php?ascb_number=14290

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