2007

The Observer reveals that Creationists plan British theme park. This was picked up by Pharyngula, the Dawkins site, and some of the other usual suspects in atheist blog-land. Prophecies of doom were uttered, comparisons made to the creationist nutters in the USA, and so on.

Nonsense like this makes you despair at the state of investigative journalism in this country. The AH Trust seems to be a project of the Zebra agency, a TV production company. I say that partly because they both have similarly illiterate websites filled with nasty javascript menus, but mostly because the same address is used in both domain registrations (that of a location which looks, from Google’s aerial shots, like a private house near Wigan). The Charity Commission’s registration documents for the Trust tell us that AH stands for “Assembly Hall” and that they originally had a site at christianassembly.co.uk, which now appears to be defunct.

The Trust’s annual report makes interesting reading for many reasons. The Trust reports that their income from donations was about £300 last year, and that they had £311 in the bank at the end of September 2007. (It’s possible, looking at the graph on page 7, that we’re meant to multiply these figures by 1000, but you’d have hoped they’d indicate that in the report somewhere).

The Observer tells us the Trust is talking to “a number of rich backers”, who I can exclusively reveal are called Mr Desk, Mr Chair, Mr Pen and Mr Stapler (Offler bless you, PTerry, stay well as long as you can), as well as a pair of investors to whom I am intimately connected.

For heaven’s sake, lefty journos, leave Christianity in this country to die in peace, with a bit of dignity, instead of writing yet another scare story about how we’re about to be over-run.

Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed with “a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s“. Damn. As minnesattva says, “Even more than it’s excruciating for any person to “lose his/her mind,” it would — will — be a tragedy to lose the specific and wonderful mind that calls itself Terry Pratchett.”

At the end of his statement, he writes:

I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as ‘I am not dead’. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think – it’s too soon to tell. I know it’s a very human thing to say “Is there anything I can do”, but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

The Pain is a web-comic which I keep losing and finding again, so I’m mentioning it here so I’ll know where to find it, and also because I like it.

The Top Ten on the archives page links to many of my own favourites, like Jesus vs. Jeezus and Scientists Riot!.

The later comics themselves seem less funny than the earlier ones, but the written “Artist’s Statement” beneath them is often good stuff. There are reflections on certainty and doubt in What Else They’re Calling “Mohammed”, lost love and breakups in How to Win Her Back, Christianity and Islam in Contributions of the World’s Religions, Part I, and the similarities between the political clout of liberals and evangelicals in Part V.

While I’m here, if you like Roy Zimmerman, you might enjoy the Agnostic Gospel Song.

I’d like to remind them that as a trusted radio personality, I can be helpful in rounding up fanficcers to toil in their underground salt mines.

Yes, the Russians bought LiveJournal. Either it’s a plot, which has been planned for over a year by the oligarchs, to destroy the free speech of the large number of Russian LJ users; or perhaps it’s just that Six Apart got fed up of all the complaints.

Theories abound: some people blame the sale plans for recent attempts to clean-up LJ, like the Strikethrough debacle and the recent introduction of the “denounce” button on everyone’s journal. (hairyears has a good posting on the latter, by the way, arguing that it’s an entirely sensible move on LJ’s part to prevent them from being sued by right-wing nutjobs).

Other good sources: Metafilter has some discussion, Encyclopedia Dramatica has some links to the stupidest responses so far, and vladmuthafucka records the thoughts of Putin himself.

I’ll stick around and see what happens, at least. ljdump runs every night here, just in case, but it’s far more likely that I’d use it to recover from some technical failure at LJ than to recover from a censored journal.

The BBC’s Have Your Say site is a reminder that democracy is only the least bad method of government. Like the callers to Graham Torrington’s Late Night Love and Any Answers, not to mention the phone voters on Strictly Come Dancing, the commenters on Have Your Say are a tempting argument for some sort of Platonic philosopher king who would send them off to work in the salt mines.

spEak You’re bRanes is a collection of the very worst of the Have Your Say contributions, interspersed with mockery from the owner of the site (note the categorisation of postings, over on the right hand side). Inevitably, I like the religion ones the best:

On the Madrid bombing verdicts.

This is only mans judgement, just wait until the real God judges them.
Daz, Basingstoke

Yeah man. God’s a really fierce judger. I remember when he judged Hitler. Santa was holding the little shit down by his ears and Jesus and Mary had a leg each. Then God just went like TOTALLY apeshit, screaming “socialism my fat holy ass” and kicking him in the knackers with his HOLY NUT-CRUSHING POWER BOOTS again and again and again for ALL ETERNITY. Proper vicious bastard. I swear, Tony Blair’s going to get his anus ripped off.

Indeed.

You might not have realised this, but Christianity is not a religion or a set of beliefs. It is a relationship with God. Or at least, a lot of Christians will tell you it is. I’ve been talking to some of them on uk.religion.christian recently.

The assertion that “Christianity is a relationship” is, at its most basic, a part of an apologetic or evangelistic technique. When talking to people who think that religion is a bad thing, the Christian attempts to convince the listener that Christianity is not like other religions, in fact, it’s so different that it’s not really a religion at all (one can presume that we were saved from claims that Christianity is “religion 2.0” by the fact that there was no Internet when people were thinking this stuff up). It’s the religious equivalent of the spammer’s claim that spam is that which we don’t do. robhu ran into this sort of claim recently. Not all Christians go along with this sort of word-game: hurrah for woodpijn, who is happy to admit that Christianity is in fact a religion.

It’s more interesting to hear people talking of a “personal relationship with God”. I think it means that the Christian relates to God in prayer a bit like they’d relate to humans by talking and listening (God being a person with whom such a relationship is possible, albeit a vastly superior sort of person). This gets you into trouble straight away. If, for example, all the people who claim have they such a relationship really did, they would all agree with each other because when the question of what God thought about something arose, they could just ask him. I’ve mentioned this in the past, but the most recent thread was started off when the Christians on uk.r.c told an atheist that he’d misunderstood Christianity by taking it as a set of beliefs, because in fact (you guessed it) “it’s a relationship with God”. I made my usual point that God doesn’t seem to have his story straight when talking to different people. A couple of posters responded that this was a simplistic view of a relationship, and that the things about which Christians disagree on uk.r.c weren’t very important to God. You can see my response to that.

Mark Goodge responded differently, by saying that he’d meant “relationship” in the sense that someone just is someone else’s son or daughter, regardless of how often they actually speak. Christians are God’s adopted children, even if they believe wildly different things.

As I said in my reply, I can see his point (after all, I thought liberals Christians were real Christians when I was an evangelical). But I wonder how that theology works: who is adopted, and how? Is everyone who claims to be a Christian adopted, including the extreme liberals, the Mormons, and so on? It’ll be interesting to see what Mark’s argument is here.

All the responses still leave the question of just how important believing stuff is to God, in the view of these Christians. The Christian church likes to have schisms on the very issues that the uk.r.christians spend a lot of time debating, so it seems these issues are pretty serious. I’ve certainly run into Christians who thought you cannot be an actively gay Christian, a Catholic Christian, a Christian who doesn’t believe that Jesus was God, or a Christian who doesn’t believe that God exists at all. If these things really are important to God, though, you’d have thought he’d tell his children his views. We must conclude that what God considers important is the stuff that everyone who is a Christian agrees on, namely that you should be nice to people, that Jesus was probably a good bloke, and that it’s important to gather with your friends every so often and sing songs (although not with musical accompaniment, obviously: Christians must be like popular 80s beat combo The Flying Pickets). On this basis, I think I could be a Christian after all.

Mattghg posted something about how Scott Adams, the Dilbert artist, doesn’t believe in evolution. I responded:

Scott Adams also thinks that gravity is caused by the fact that everything is expanding, and that if you write down something you want to happen several times a day, it will come to pass. While this doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong about evolution, I think he’s a contrarian who likes to throw out wild ideas about how the scientists are wrong. To deny evolution is on a par with the expansion=gravity idea: it’s only Americans who think there is a controversy, because of the wedge strategy of the creationists (now known as intelligent design advocates).

Matt has made another post about my last sentence, taking issue with my assertion that there is no controversy. He links to Jerry Fodor’s recent article in the LRB as an example of a someone who says that there is a controversy. He also objects to me lumping the Intelligent Design (ID) crowd in with the Young Earth Creationists.

I have at least two PhD biologists on my friends’ list. They know much more about this stuff than me, so I hope they’ll point out my errors in what follows. That said, I thought I’d have a go anyway. So:

I probably should have said that by “controversy” I mean the specific idea that ID-ers want taught in schools, namely that there’s some serious disagreement among biologists about whether an intelligent designer is required to explain some biological structures. I’m not saying all biologists agree on every detail of how evolution works.

That said, Fodor’s article is, I’d guess, a typical example of someone from outside the field misunderstanding the details of debates within it (hence my hope that my biologist friends will correct me where I’m wrong). He talks about the constraints of embryology and existing forms as if this were breaking news to people like Dawkins. As it happens, I’m reading Climbing Mount Improbable as the moment, where Dawkins, writing back in 1996, talks about the evolution of the eye. He tells us that “Once a good eye has started to evolve with its retina back-to-front, the only way to ascend [the fitness landscape] is to improve the present design of the eye… the vertebrate retina faces the way it does because of the way it develops in the embryo, and this certainly goes back to its distant ancestors”. A recent entry by davegodfrey, a paleobiologist, addresses some of the other oddities in Fodor’s essay.

But biologists do disagree. ID-ers like to see this disagreement, because it allows them to tell the biologists that the resolution is right in front of their noses: God did it! (if you doubt that the ID-ers’ intelligent designer is God, read their own strategy document, which lays out the aims of the movement). This is just the sort of “me too Daddy” helpfulness that you get from New Agers about quantum physics. Unfortunately it loses its charm when grown-ups do it (and it’s not made any more convincing by the fact that some very distinguished scientists go along with it: there’s no idea so silly that you can’t find a PhD, or even a Nobel prizewinner, who’ll agree with it). No wonder the biologists are annoyed by this sort of thing.

ID-ers assume that if there is a disagreement among biologists, evolutionary theory is in crisis, and that the solution must be ID. As the ID-er linked to by Matt said “Of course, one of those alternatives, not mentioned by Fodor, is ID.” There’s a reason by Fodor didn’t mention that alternative. As Dawkins and Coyne said in their Guardian article: “The other side is never required to produce one iota of evidence, but is deemed to have won automatically, the moment the first side encounters a difficulty – the sort of difficulty that all sciences encounter every day, and go to work to solve, with relish.”

On the point of what “creationism” means, it’s clear from the Discovery Institute’s own documentation that their aim is to provide a stepping stone to creationism while sneaking around the American restrictions on the establishment of religion, specifically on the teaching of creationism in schools. This is so well known that I suspect ID will need to reinvent itself soon in its continual game of cat-and-mouse with the US court system. Wikipedia links to Panda’s Thumb, which claims that “critical analysis of evolution” is the new buzz phrase. We’ll have to see how that one works out for them, I suppose.

These days, it seems the youth in the UK and in America are increasingly sceptical about the Lord’s word. A new Bible translation promises to remedy this by speaking to the young people in a language they can understand. I must thank drdoug for bringing it to my attention. A few sample passages will illustrate its freshness and relevance:

Matthew 5: Ceiling Cat liek kittehz wiv no cash. Tehy can has Ceiling Catz pad.
Ceiling Cat liek sad kittehz. Tehy can has petting.
Ceiling Cat liek kittehz taht no pwn otehr kittehz. Tehy can has earth wen otehr kittehz is ded.
Ceiling Cat liek kittehz taht is liek “can i has good?”. Tehy can has cheezburger.
Ceiling Cat liek kittehz taht no pwn otehr kittehz even if tehy can. Ceiling Cat no pwn tehm.
Ceiling Cat liek kittehz taht has bath inside. Tehy can see Ceiling Cat.
Ceiling Cat liek cheezmakers. Ceiling Cat is liek “u mi kittenz”

John 1:5 – Teh lite iz pwns teh darks, but teh darks iz liek “Wtf.”

Ecclesiastes 3:3-6 – sup. there has is a sison 4 everthing, and a tiems 4every purpos under teh ceiling, lol. a tiemz 2 get kittehs, an a tiems 2 get ded. tiemz 2 mades cookies, an also tiems 2 cheezburgers. teimz 2 hugs, and loltims 4 buttsecks.

John 20:26-28 – Ltr, teh dscpls iz in teh hous wif Thomas. Teh doorz iz lockded, but Jesus waz liek “Oh hai!” And Jesus sayed “My wounz–let me show u them. Srsly, stfu.” And Thomas sayed “OMG, OMG!”

Revelation 22:6 – Then ayngel sayz “this all true. Srsly.”



This translation will turn the tide.

A friend’s Facebook status says they’re depressed by how good David Cameron’s speech was. Presumably they’re not a natural Conservative voter. I’m not either, but I thought it was interesting for the places where Cameron managed to put some clear water between Tory libertarianism and Labour centralisation. Particular points which impressed me were the promise to abolish ID cards, the idea of elected police commissioners (promising to reduce police paperwork seems obligatory for politicians at the moment, but I’ve not seen any Labour plans on how to go about that), and a Liberal Democrat style policy on devolving power to local authorities. The nod to Melanie Phillips’s book was neat, too (you don’t have to agree with her “OMG! Londonistan!” stuff to agree with her on education, after all).

What’s bad? I still don’t really trust them on the NHS, where their history isn’t exactly great. Dave’s plans seem a bit vague there: “We won’t have targets, except we will, but they’ll be the right sort of targets”. They also appear to care far more about Europe and about the armed forces than I do: both those sections of the speech were there for the traditional Tories, I suppose. And what is so terrible about the Human Rights Act, anyway?

It’ll be interesting to see whether Gordon Brown does decide on an Autumn election after this.