Monday, February 28, 2011

Anthony replies...

Anthony has taken the time to reply to my blog post, which is nice.

I've not the time to reply properly now, but just to let you know it's there.

I'll reply properly when I can, and after I have read his books, which I have just purchased (offsetting my woo foot print of course. For Anthony's readers, I don't like supporting religion monetarily, and whilst you may well disagree, religion to me, is a form of woo).

Friday, February 25, 2011

Supporting religions by accident

Steve Chalke does fantastic work for the charity he founded, and took the crown (from Sir Steve Redgrave) by being the individual who has raised the most amount of money for a single event, £1.85 million. I really admire that. This year he wants to break it:

<iframe title="YouTube video player" width="480" height="390" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

UPDATE: As you can see, embedding doesn't work, so here's the link

What he doesn't mention in the work that Oasis do, is that they support the Church. I don't feel that this is fair. Firstly, secular people like myself won't want to give, and people of other faiths may not wish to promote beliefs different to their own.

Am I being over sensitive here though?

Skeptical mind = scam safegaurd

I got these texts:

18:50 24/02/11 +447516316438 The Government has introduced a Debt Settlement Order, this means people struggling with debt can apply to have it wiped off, to apply txt DEBT. 2 stop txt STOP

and the same again at 01:52 25/02/11 from +447526315186

I must admit, the first one came, I read it, was busy, and ignored it, and then forgot about it.

Undoubtedly these aren't genuine, and a quick google search to find out more about the scam and how to stop it, found James Wiseman's blog which reveals I'm a bit late to the party, as they've been doing the rounds since Jan, here's James' advice:
Back in May 2009, the Guardian newspaper wrote an article Spam to go – the new mobile menace. It recommends a number of organisations you can contact. 
To complain about an inappropriate text, call the Advertising Standards Authority 020 7492 2222 or go to 
To resolve continual mobile spam despite texting “stop”, contact the ICO on 01625 54 57 45 or go to 
For help with premium rate text spam, call PhonepayPlus on 0800 500 212 or log on to 
You may be report these messages to your provider. The following links may help:
Vodafone – How do I report spam text messages?  
Orange – Stop spam text messagesT-Mobile don’t appear to have any page for reporting, but there are a few suggestions on this post 
You can also try NumberCop and
I'll get on and report mine.

It makes me wonder, as they are still going on, how many people have been duped, as it is quite an enticing offer, and not everyone has the natural tendency to question things.

Homeopathy overdose: Third symptom!

Last night I felt quite fatigued during my run, and especially so at my capoeira class afterwards.

Now, exercise (obviously) makes me tired, but this was much more than usual, and miles 3 and 4 last night were a particular challenge, physical (and mentally, I had to really push myself to keep running and to not walk. Though, as it turns out, despite the dip in pace around that, I still managed to get a new pb for a 10k, and beat my fastest mile by a second!).

Now, could this be the homeopathic pills not giving me enough rest; or could it have been the cumulative total of 32 miles I'd run since the week began, with 3 hours of capoeira as well, staying late at Skeptics in the Pub chatting, followed by volunteering until 02:30 in the morining on Wednesday into Thursday (after my speed training and capoeira class), with work at 09:00 on the Thursday?

I'll go for the latter, but I felt much more tired than usual, so am reporting it.

Later last evening, whilst tucking into a chicken drumstick, liberally splashed with extra hot Tobasco sauce, some of it flicked off, ninjaed under my glasses and got in my eye. It certainly perked me up enough to watch 10 O'Clock live to the end. I do not recommend it as a method of waking you up, as it is *very* painful.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Stories and evidence

PZ's finished his review of Horvath's Christian fanwank, and ended with this quote from him:

"Let's face it," Horvath says, "People are moved as much by Story as they are by Evidence. And we've got the best Story in town."

People are moved by stories. It's no secret that I'm training for the London Marathon, and actually, during my training, there has been a story that's helped keep me going, and given me inspiration.

It's a story about a man that never backs away from evil, always fighting for what is right. He can hang around with judges and prostitutes just the same. He doesn't kill, but let's those receive justice in due course. He's come back from the dead to help fight the sins of man.

Yes folks, Batman.

Recently it was tipping it down with rain, it was muddy, there were ankle deep puddles. I briefly thought about cutting my run a bit short to get out of it, and the thought that came to my head is "Batman would run through this". So that moved me in a quite literal sense.

Seriously though, stories are fantastic things, and can be truly moving. I wish I had the skill to put it in to words, but I don't. Phillip Pullman (unsurprisingly) does in his moving defense of the public library (which for my non-UK readers, are under threat in this country. For my UK readers, do check out the link and help save our libraries):

I still remember the first library ticket I ever had. It must have been about 1957. My mother took me to the public library just off Battersea Park Road and enrolled me. I was thrilled. All those books, and I was allowed to borrow whichever I wanted! And I remember some of the first books I borrowed and fell in love with: the Moomin books by Tove Jansson; a French novel for children called A Hundred Million Francs; why did I like that? Why did I read it over and over again, and borrow it many times? I don’t know. But what a gift to give a child, this chance to discover that you can love a book and the characters in it, you can become their friend and share their adventures in your own imagination.

And the secrecy of it! The blessed privacy! No-one else can get in the way, no-one else can invade it, no-one else even knows what’s going on in that wonderful space that opens up between the reader and the book. That open democratic space full of thrills, full of excitement and fear, full of astonishment, where your own emotions and ideas are given back to you clarified, magnified, purified, valued. You’re a citizen of that great democratic space that opens up between you and the book. And the body that gave it to you is the public library. Can I possibly convey the magnitude of that gift?

Stories, can be, without doubt, wonderful, powerful, moving things. But evidence can be just as much, if not more. Who can not be moved by the fact that whoever you are reading this is the most recent offspring of a succession of generations, who won out in the struggle for survival long enough to pass on their genes, and who stretch back 3.75 *billion* years, that came into existence out of the complex biochemistry at the time, from material which was forged in the heart of an exploding star. I get amazed sometimes, like now, just looking at my hands typing, and thinking of all that goes into those movements, the history that built them.

When you get great stories such as The Ancestor's Tale, or the story of how Einstein came to realise why E = MC you can the double whammy of being moved by a story and learning new things, based on evidence.

Being moved by stories is great, but not being more moved by evidence shows a lack of imagination in my opinion. As for Hovarth, it appears that he would rather teach you nothing by separating stories from evidence, which makes me wonder if any of his stories would help you learn anything new at all, apart from his narrow world view.

If you want to help the folks in New Zealand...

There's an appeal page here:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Electrifying confounding factors Batman!

Last night's Skeptics in the Pub was great! It was a talk by Andy Lewis of Quackometer fame (this blog reassuringly scored 0 Canards).

His talk "The Persistence of Delusion" was very interesting, and looked at a lot of quack medicine.

He also had actual old school quackery, namely an Improved Magneto Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases:
Close up of the instructions for treating various ailments:

Andy asked for a volunteer. We all know what came next:

The machine is essentially a dynamo, with you making up the rest of the circuit. It was an interesting experience, I felt it all the way up to my shoulders, with my forearms and biceps twitching like mad. Some said that this could invalidate my homeopathy overdose. At the time I thought "I'm not going to let that get in the way of me getting some good old fashioned quack medicine from an Magneto Electro Machine". Thinking about it though, I don't think that it does.

Firstly, we must remember that I am a healthy individual that is taking a homeopathic remedy, so, I should experience the symptoms which the pills should treat, namely insomnia. Now, this device, I'm sure, isn't injurious to my health, as Andy Lewis seems like too much of a sensible person to risk getting sued. I could be wrong, but I'm still feeling fine now, and slept rather well (though I did dream about the death of a family member).

Secondly, and more importantly, if having an electric current passed through you in some way messes with the homeopathic treatment, then one would hope that it would say so on the packet. My pills make no mention to avoid this. In fact, I couldn't see any mention about it at all. Granted, most people won't encounter a Magneto Electric Device, but, under similar principles, they might go for a TENS machine; they might also try and get their body fat measured, which again works by having an electric current passed through you, and the resulting resistance being measured to work out what percentage of you is fat (as muscle and fat have differing resistance you see); or they could go for one of those arcade games which gives you an electric shock until you let go. There are, surprisingly, many options available to you, should you wish to get (safely) electrocuted.

We are left with two possibilities:

This will have had no bearing on my overdose.


This will have had an effect, and could invalidate me from getting any symptoms from these products (though none have presented in over three months now). Howevber, if this is the case, homeopaths are again being rather cavalier with other people's health by not warning them of these effects, and thus preventing them from getting the treatment they need.

This whole overdose started when Martin Robbins challenged homeopaths to better label their products so one could see what to do if one overdoses. Upon reading that, and being part of the group C, my overdose naturally followed. So, if it is the later, I wouldn't be surprised, as, it seems, no action has been taken by the homeopaths in response to Martin, and the homeopaths I've communicated with don't actually seem to care about my health.

An ontological argument I can agree with

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Help improve UK medicines legislation

Long story shortMHRA are currently asking the public about some aspects of their regulation, including what wording should be on some homeopathic products and this is an ideal opportunity to tell them what we think.

Homeopaths are worried and are trying to organise a way of ensuring they can continue to mislead the public. Here's a template letter you can send to the MHRA (written by @Billysuggar in a comment at my last link):

Ms Andrea Farmer
MHRA, Area 5M
151 Buckingham Palace Road
Victoria, London SW1W 9SZ
Dear Ms Farmer,
I am writing to you about the MHRA consultation document entitled "Review of Medicines Act 1968: informal consultation on issues relating to the PLR regime and homeopathy".
As a member of the public who values evidence based medical practice, and recognises the dangers inherent in misleading claims for medical efficacy, I am deeply concerned by the current orchestrated campaign in support of unproven homeopathic treatments, and their potential to delay or avoid the application of proven medical therapies, which is led by self-interested homeopaths.
I consider it to be a fundamental duty of a democratic society to ensure that patients and clinicians are provided with clear information about potential remedies which is founded on reliable scientific evidence. This includes homeopathy, the effecacy of which, as you know, is not supported by the current scientific consensus.
I contend that the marketing of any substance which may be offered for sale or application, with an implied or explicit claim of medical efficacy, and which may be considered by patients or clinicians to be suitable as a substitute for, or an addition to, conventional therapeutic remidies, should be subject to the same Marketing Authorisation (MA) requirements as the therapeutic remidies for which they may be substituted.
Therefore I strongly urge the MHRA to move homeopathic products to full Marketing Authorisation (MA) requirements, rather than the NRS or simplified scheme.

So, let's spread the word and get the emails/letters sent.


Survival of the fittest

Yes, I know when people say survival of the fittest, it's not necessarily those that can run the furthest, but in this case it is. if you're on Nike+ you might want to stick up for whichever scientific discipline you most identify with and take part in this challenge:

I know biology's best, but surely there must be some chemists that like running? Would be good to have a bit more competition there!

Yes, you could argue that those that are running are spending less time actually doing anything scientific, but that's not the point : P

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Self hate with your iPhone

So now you can prep yourself for confession on your iPhone with Confession: A Roman Catholic App.

I hate the Catholic practice of confession, or to put it accurately, the Sacrament of Penance. In fact, it's not entirely exclusive to Catholicism. Chairman Mao introduced something similar when he ruled China, regular self-criticism, or jiǎntǎo (检讨). Whatever you call it, I hate it for two reasons.

Firstly, if you've done something wrong, learn from it, and make amends if they are needed. You shouldn't need someone to give a magic incantation - this does nothing - it's your actions after a mistake that are important.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it's just nasty. Miranda Celeste explains why in her post A dirty little girl, her head hanging in shame (do read the whole thing):
Then there is the guilt. According to Catholic teaching, humans are born sinners and cannot help but continue to sin throughout their lives. The only way for a Catholic to atone for these sins is to confess them to a priest, do the required penance, and be absolved. As a child, I obsessively recorded in a little notebook anything that I had said or done that could possibly be considered sinful. Then, when the time came for confession, I would recite this list to the priest, my head hanging in shame, my cheeks burning. I’d do my penance and be absolved. For a fleeting, blissful moment, I would feel light and pure and holy. But soon I would sin again, the guilt would return, the little notebook would be filled up with a record of my indiscretions, and I would return to the confessional and repeat the process over and over again. 

Or, as Hitchens asks succinctly "How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in an awareness of one's own sin?".

Truly, this is an awful practice, and it is a great pity to see this app.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Illusions of superiority

A recent exchange reminded me of this fantastic video from the ever excellent Theramin Trees on this brilliantly titled paper: "Unskilled and unaware of It: how difficulties in recognizing one's own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments"

His videos are all brilliant, you should check out his others!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

10:23 Challenge

I was hoping to take part tomorrow, at the same time as everyone at the QED conference, but then I realised my homeopathic remedy came 72 tablets a box and that today is 72 days since my long term overdose started, and I liked that. With the 10:23 challenge being for the weekend of the 5th and 6th, I took an entire packet at 10:23 today.

Since my long term overdose started, I've taken 8 tablets every day, which is 2 more than the maximum recommended dose (2 tablets 4 hours before bed, 2 tablets immediately before bed, and, if needed, a further 2 during the night). That's 576 in total, and 144 more than is recommended. Today takes me up to 216 more tablets than needed. I might take another pack tomorrow though - it was actually quite nice eating that many at once (I have quite a sweet tooth).

It's at this point I should inform/remind people that one of the principles of homeopathy is that like treats like. So, under homeopathic principles, caffeine could be used to treat insomnia. No, this doesn't make sense. However, as I am fit and well, taking a homeopathic treatment should give me the symptoms it is trying to cure. I chose an insomnia remedy as I sleep really well, and am a fit and healthy individual. Also, as I hated supporting the industry, I offset my woo footprint by donating to Sense About Science.

So far, I'm feeling fine - the only bad things I've experienced since this overdose were a cough in December, and a stiff neck in January.

In fact, with my marathon training having gone up a notch, I'm actually feeling better than ever,  and am consequently sleeping *really* well too (after running 8 miles, then having an hour and a half of capoeira, I think most people would sleep really well!).

Oh, I can't really mention my marathon, and the not say "Please sponsor me, it's for the Meningitis Trust" : P

Friday, February 4, 2011

On creationism, with me and @DarkBlondAngel

Deborah Hanscombe tweeted this today:
What a surprise @DrEvanHarris whining about religion again, if a God exists, can he smite this man down?. lol. Please RT lol.

In reply to these:

Proposed Free School plans to teach creationism. More here: via @BHAnews

Pastor in comments at "Creationism will be embodied as a belief" at the schl but won't be taught in the sciences" but..

Also "Similarly, evolution will be taught as a theory". Doesn't understand what a scientific theory actually is (Show him Gravity someone!)

We then had a wee conversation on the merits of creationism in school. There was a little misunderstanding, and I had to sign off of twitter before the conversation was concluded, so, in answer to the tweets using more than 140 characters, here's where I was coming from, and this also serves as my tweeted promise "Gotta go now, will reply to anything else later".

I was talking about Creationism as I see it - something to replace the teaching of evolution in schools, even if, as Deborah points out, evolution and the origins of life are different things. However, in the context of the tweets from Dr Evan Harris, it was originally in the context of the old creationism vs evolution battle, so I think my misconception was fair. For example, in Dr Harris' links:
According to the church, the Everyday Champions Academy will possess a "Christian ethos that permeates everything that happens throughout the school".
The church states that it believes the Bible is an "accurate" depiction of God's word, and that God is the "creator of all things".
Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church leader and the driving force behind the free school bid, confirmed that creationism would be taught across the curriculum, should the school be given the green light.
"Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school," Pastor Morgan said. "It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory."
The word "theory" is abused by creationists as the word is misunderstood. Evolution is "just a theory", but a theory in science means our best understanding of how something works, given the available data, not, as is often used colloquially, "just a hunch". Likewise, the idea that disease is caused by germs is "just a theory" (indeed, there are still people who dispute that viruses, bacteria and fungi etc cause disease. Never get health advice from these people!).

I am all for children having religious education (this is true everywhere, but this is in the context of the UK) - it is important to understand the Bible, as it has had a massive impact on our culture, and is needed to understand many common phrases eg "Doubting Thomas" (Richard Dawkins lists many in The God Delusion, but a friend is borrowing my copy, so can't reference I'm afraid). It is also important to have knowledge of other's beliefs. Funnily enough, some of the best religious knowledge comes from atheists. However, religion should be taught in a secular fashion - "This is what so and so believe, however this and that believe something else". They are, after all, all myths (if you are religious and reading this, how would you define the beliefs of other religions?). Even if you're not happy with your religion being taught as such, you must remember that the others will feel the same about their religion.

Creationism, and indeed other religious ideas should stay out of the science class room. Time is limited. Showing the huge wealth of evidence for evoulution should suffice - for example, radio metric dating can be taught to show the age of the Earth. It's not then needed to have a comparison with the Young Age Creationists, and their method of added up the ages of the various genealogies.

All ideas are not equally valid. How does this idea for car repair compare to a qualified mechanic?

When an idea has been tested for over 150 years,  with lots of people trying to disprove it; when it has made predictions that have all been shown to be true; and when every single item of evidence ever found fits the idea beautifully, then you can give it more weight as an idea from some nomadic goat herders thousands of years ago who thought bats were birds (Leviticus 11:13, 19)

Here's the full conversation, with a few notes:

.@DarkBlondAngel Goodness me! Think you'll find @DrEvanHarris is campaigning for good education, something you evidently missed out on
 (I regret starting off insulting Deborah's education. No way to have a discussion. Sorry Deborah)

.@EnglishAtheist @DrEvanHarris You're for cleansing the education system of religious content. Creation is part of Religion, get over it.

.@DarkBlondAngel No, I'm *for* religious education, just not in science lessons. Also, creationism should be taught as myth, not fact


.@EnglishAtheist None of the theories on creation; Scientific or otherwise, are factual. We don't know how life arose. Idiot.

.@DarkBlondAngel Easy there hot head. I said creationism should be taught as a myth. I'm well aware evolution is a theory...
(See, I started off with an insult, and it carried on. I should know better)

.@DarkBlondAngel ...a theory as well supported as the theory that germs cause disease


.@EnglishAtheist We know how life evolved.

.@DarkBlondAngel And our theories of abiogeneisis are coming along just dandy too…


The only Atheists to engage with me, are brainless. Only one Atheist I know, has actually agreed with what I was saying. Others can't read.


@EnglishAtheist And what @DrEvanHarris knows about Science, can be written on a postcard (a small one).

.@DarkBlondAngel Probably using techniques that Feynman talked about. You can read them in "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out"
Great book, highly recommend it. Th passage I refered to was Feynman talking about putting all the books of the world in space three square yards in size.

. @EnglishAtheist Creationism, in the sense of "The Universe" should be taught as a religious theory, not excluded altogether.

.@DarkBlondAngel I've not said exclude all together, I've said keep out of science lessons, and teach as a myth, like other religions

@ This conversation might be better via email where we have more than 140 characters
Deborah chose not to engage in a conversation with more than 140 characters, but did retweet this. UPDATE: I have either made a mistake and thought I saw it retweeted' or the retweet has been undone, as it is no longer there.

Its a theory, not a myth. Creation is as likely as "The Big Bang". Both are theorys. Granted one is less likely. That is the point though.
Which is it? The tweet starts "Creation is as likely as "The Big Bang", but finishes "Granted one is less likely". Both statements can't be true.

@EnglishAtheist Wait, a God creating a Universe, is a religious theory, should be compared alongside others. Not different lesson.

. @EnglishAtheist That is a matter of opinion, there is no evidence to give one; a higher validity than the next. #Fact
No, it is a matter of fact. Evoultion has a wealth of evidence. Creationism, none.

.@DarkBlondAngel Erm, yes there is. Start with On The Origin of Species by Darwin, then read Why Evolution Is True by Coyne

@EnglishAtheist That is evolution, I am talking about creation.

.@ Yes, but it is almost certain that evolutionary principles will be needed in our understanding of abiogenesis

. @EnglishAtheist There is no reason why a lesson couldn't compare and discuss the various theories. Religious ones included.

.@DarkBlondAngel Also, you know full well creationism is trying to be taught instead of evolution (well, I assume you do)

I'm not even religious. It is however wrong to ignore the tiny possibility of a "higher being" having created everything that we percieve.

.@EnglishAtheist Surely that is the lesson, Evolution has proven elements of creation to be wrong. Yet there are elements yet to dissprove.
I assume that the "elements yet to disprove" referred to creationism. Hence my reply later.

.@DarkBlondAngel But time is limited, best not waste it on nonsense

.@DarkBlondAngel What about pots of gold at the end of rainbows? Should that be taught in physics, along with light defraction?

.@EnglishAtheist Not the same, we can prove Rainbows have no end as such, are atmospheric phenomena. 

.@DarkBlondAngel What elements are there to disprove? (Excluding the fact you can't prove a negative)

.@DarkBlondAngel Creationist type logic: But you've never been to the end of a rainbow to find out

.@EnglishAtheist Creation of the Universe? Errrm whats Matter? Errrm how does life start? Etc. We know how it works, I grant you.

@DarkBlondAngel Gotta go now, will reply to anything else later

Oh sure, Run Away! Atheists, attention seekers! Talk about Science, an then know nothing about it. lol.

. @EnglishAtheist I think you're brain is at an end of a Rainbow. I think you should have paid closer attention in Science class yourself.

Care to comment Deborah?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Homeopathy overdose update: I wish to register a complaint...

...about these homeopaths what I contacted not two and a bit months ago.

The Society of Homeopaths recommended that I contact a registered homeopath. I looked on their list of registered homeopaths and contacted six. Twice, on Nov 30th and again on Jan 8th. I have heard nothing from them. I am therefore registering a complaint. I shan't reproduce it here, as the process for complaints says it should be kept confidential, which is fair.

So, instead, here's the Dead Parrot sketch instead:

Also,this weekend is the 10:23 Challenge. Alas, I can't make QED, and will be busy during the weekend, but will take the time to take a massive overdose at 10:23, in addition to my usual overdoses. If you're in Cardiff, join in too. Actually, if you're anywhere in the world, take part!

If you buy any homeopathic products, you can offset your woo foot print.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In answer to PZ part 2, in which I disagree with him a bit

PZ Myers asked "Why are you an atheist?" and went on to describe some of his peeves with atheists. In my last post I answered with why I'm an atheist, and will now point out where I think PZ's wrong to be peeved. It is this bit:

"Babies are all atheists or I'm an atheist by default, because I was raised without religion. Nope. Uh-uh. Same problem as the Dictionary Atheist — it implies atheism is simply an intellectual vacuum. Babies aren't Christians or Muslims or Hindus, and they aren't atheists, either, because we expect at least a token amount of thought is given to the subject. If babies are atheists, then so are trees and rocks — which is true by the dictionary definition, but also illustrates how ridiculously useless that definition is.

Babies might also have an in-built predisposition to accept the existence of caring intelligences greater than themselves, so they might all lean towards generic theism, anyway. Mommy is God, after all.

There are a fair number of adults who ought to know better who insist on the dictionary definition, too. They've been brought up without god-belief, and some of them may not have even considered religion much at all. Unless they are real lightweights, genuine feathers adrift in the wind, they also carry a set of values that incline them towards godlessness…otherwise you'd expect them to fall on their knees and turn Christian the instant they first hear about Jesus. They don't, and why? Probably because they learned some critical thinking skills from their parents. They carry positive values that make them resistant to the cheap promises of faith."

I would actually like to see an increase in this category of atheist.

Granted *right now* you'd be a fool to say religion isn't important in the world. However, I think it would be great to see more people raised godless, who don't really consider religion at all, and get on with their lives, in the same way, that lots of people don't believe in ghosts, or the Bermuda triangle, or crystal healing. There is a lot of nonsense floating out there, and there are not enough hours in the day to take a serious look at it all.

I would like these people, when pressed, to explain they've never considered it as it's just ridiculous nonsense, and it would be great if this could be the way the majority of people are raised.

This is easy for me to say though, Britain is already, or at least getting close, to the point of religious types being in the minority.

I think it is the above type of atheist that help this. At school, I was very interested in religion (well, still am), but a lot of people just didn't bother considering it.

As the BHA highlights, there's still plenty of work to do in becoming more secular. Also, I don't think the States are ready for more of these atheists, as, if they're not considering religion, then they won't be considering such issues as atheism in schools and such.

However, ultimately, I'd like these people to be the norm. A man can dream...

Why I'm an atheist. In answer to PZ (Part 1)

PZ asked Why are you an atheist?

I wrote this on Facebook before my blog, which does answer PZ:

A little on what I beleive...

There seem to be some misapprehensions about my beliefs and thoughts about religion. So, to clear things up, here's brief note on what I believe. I say brief, but it’s obviously going to be quite long. But it’s a big subject. Also, please use the comments if you disagree with me, but at least read all of this before you do. I’m writing this in my lunch hour off the top of my head, and haven’t the time to search for links etc, so if I make claims, but haven’t given the evidence, just ask, and I’ll back up my assertions.

Firstly, I don't think religious people are stupid because they're religious, I think someone is stupid, if they're stupid. Said stupid person could be an atheist. I do think religious people are deluded. Sadly, this has negative connertations, but I'm not sure what other word to use. The same has come for ignorance. Neither of these mean that someone is stupid. I think that a religious person is deluded, because I think their religious beliefs are wrong (factually, potentially morally, but that very much depends on the individual’s beliefs). This shouldn't be insulting though - even with the up most respect for others’ beliefs, a Christian for example, will quite clearly think a Hindu is deluded, or indeed that I am, for not accepting Jesus Christ as their personal saviour. Why do I think religious people are wrong? Well...

I used to be a Christian (C of E), I would go to Sunday school regularly (Blandford Camp’s Rainbow Club), though it was a very casual religious upbrining. At school I took extra religious education classes – religions interest me. I left the Rainbow Club, as, after a few years, it got a bit boring going over the same Bible stories. At school I began my drift away from belief. I’d ask questions, and not get answers – for example, I can remember being fobbed off to rubbish answers to my questions. For example, if God wants everyone to be a Christian and praise him, couldn’t he have put a little more effort in than sending Jesus to the Middle East, and then letting a bunch of murderous religious zealots spread it to the rest of the world? (I can’t remember my exact phrasing, but I mistakenly showed my poor geography by placing the Middle East in Europe in my question. The answer to my question he gave highlighted that I had got that bit wrong, and was left at that. There wasn’t an actual answer to my question). The obvious question about a “God of the gaps”, as another example, was just rephrased back at me. Alas, if I was me now back then, I’d have been a bit more forceful and asked for an answer, as it was, I got my rubbish answer, and meekly replied yes. You live, you learn.

So, the more I thought and asked, the more religion didn’t seem to make sense, and just seemed made up. By the time I left school I was an atheist. I was quite quiet about it though (unless asked, or in an actual religious debate), but, after 9/11, and then when I read Sam Harris’ and Richard Dawkins’ books on religion after uni, I became more vocal.

I don’t dogmatically stick to atheism though. I just want a reason why I should believe a certain religion. Because I say “I don’t believe that” does not mean I’m saying it’s impossible, I just want evidence.

So far, I have seen no evidence for any religions, but I have seen evidence for how religions can be explained as a psychological product of the mind. If I was given good evidence for a religion, I would change my mind.

I can also state what kind of evidence I would be looking for. (Whereas I’ve found religious people can’t say what kind of evidence would make them change their mind about their beliefs).

Stuff like this would be good: If the chances of catching a disease at Mecca were reduced, or at least the same, as people's day to day living. As it is, pilgrims at Mecca are at more risk of disease, as one would expect from so many people in so small an area.

Someone praying for an amputee, and their limbs coming back, would also be good evidence.

These things are not evidence: Religious texts - the Bible contradicts the Qu'ran and vice versa. If you accept one, why not the other?

Personal revelation is also out – you may very well be sure you experienced something, but there are countless others from other faiths, who have had their own revelations, which contradict yours. If you are religious, and think you have evidence, imagine someone of an entirely different religion who had similar evidence to yours. Would it convert you?

I hope you get the idea.

I don’t believe that rejecting propositions for lack of evidence makes me closed minded.

I am against religion. This is because from all that I have seen so far, religion appears to be nothing more than a quite elaborate superstition, that is very widely accepted. That’s not why I’m against it though. Whilst I do acknowledge that there are good parts of religions, I feel that on the whole, religions are a Bad Thing for society. Dogmatic views can lead to bigotry (for example religious homophobia), holding back scientific progress (for example stem cell research), just wrong on so many levels (the stoning of raped women to death for adultery) and, well, 9/11. Yes - that last example is from a religious extremist, but without the moderate take on religion, you wouldn't get the religious extremist. I know this wouldn't solve the problem, as nutters are nutters, but it’s a start. I forget the exact quote, and who said it, but “Good people do good things, and bad people do bad things, but for good people to do bad things, you need religion”.

Religions are also, by their very nature, divisive.

That said, I do believe in religious freedom - people should be free to believe what they like (though acting out these beliefs should have restrictions when they impinge on others). For complete religious freedom, one needs a secular society. The laws of the land should not favour one religion over another, this would not be fair. Laws should be decided on the merits of the issue at hand, not from centuries old religious dogma from nomadic goat herders who didn’t even have concepts of a lot of modern day life. So, for example, I think that halal and kosher meat is inhumane, and shouldn’t be exempted from the animal welfare laws on slaughtering animals.

Whilst I am for religious freedom, I am intolerant of some religious beliefs. For example, the whole hoo ha by the Catholic adoption agency over letting gay couples adopt – not based on any evidence of whether children raised by straight couples do better than those raised by gay couples, for example, but solely because of their ingrained religious homophobia.

Whilst I know that religions are deeply held personal beliefs, and that discussing them may cause some one to be uncomfortable or offended, I don’t thing that that’s a good reason not to discuss them. If people can have their political views etc challenged, why not their religious ones? Obviously, there’s a time and a place, and I do admit to getting the time and place wrong, but I’m a Bear of Very Little Brain and far from perfect.

People say that Science is my religion, but I will have to disagree. Here’s why:

Published science gets into journals via peer review. When a paper is submitted, it is reviewed by other people, independent of the research, who are also knowledgable on the subject, to determine if the paper is up to standard. As with all systems, this one has its flaws, but it’s the best thing we’ve got at the moment (feel free to offer an improvement here). Once it is published, it is then open to the criticism of everyone. Poor papers get knocked down, or stand up to the onslaught, and our knowledge moves forward.

From this, we get theories. A scientific theory is not the same as a hunch. It’s our current, best understanding of the information available. They are open to debate, but some theories can be seen, essentially, as true beyond all reasonable doubt.

For example, that bacteria can cause disease, is “just a theory”, germ theory. Likewise, the theory of evolution, is “just a theory”, but it is true. How do we know? There are 150 years of evidence to back it up. Yes, it is true that something might come along and disprove both of these – as with any other theories, but nothing has yet. If I’m to not believe in evolution, or that germs cause disease, then I want some pretty outstanding evidence.

Believing in scientific theories is not religious. It is not dogmatic, it can move forward, unlike religion, which has changes because of it – witness geocentrism. Galileo was right, though the church said he was wrong. Indeed, the Pope said that whilst Galileo was correct in his assertions, the Churches actions were the right thing to do.

That said, people can stick to “scientific” beliefs dogmatically, look at the odious Andrew Wakefiled spinning bucks of his discredited, and demonstrably incorrect, assertion that vaccines cause autism.

Science is wrong all the time, and says so. However, as it moves forward, it becomes increasingly more right. Back to evolution as an example, the central concept of random adaptions being non-randomly selected is good, but there are debates about the gene centred view, kin selection etc. This drives it forward, and enhances our understanding. As evidence of science moving things forward, I offer what ever device your reading this on – be it a computer, mobile or whatever.

If science knew all the answers, it would stop. Religion claims to know all the answers (God did it).

The Bible doesn’t change, nor do other religious texts – people may reinterpret, or change existing views to accommodate new evidence.

Now, I have been called a fundamentalist atheist, but I’m not sure how any of this is fundamental. I’ve also been told that, as a fundamentalist atheist, I have radical and extremist behaviours, and adhere to a set of beliefs. Again, I’m not sure how that above lines up with this. I hardly call engaging in (albeit it at time heated) discussions, tweeting, or writing notes on facebook as radical and extremist. If you’d like to enlighten me though, I invite you to do so in the comments below.

If you really want to make a comparison between me and religion, you’re better to chose my support of Manchester United (but I’ll not hear a word against the Holy Trinity of Ferguson, Giggs and Cantona) : P

Thanks for reading!

I've since changed in stance slightly, and go so far as to say there is no god.

In my next part, I'll disagree with PZ's post a bit.
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