Category Archives: Religion

The problem of “Dawkinsian Atheism” in a university environment

University Atheist/Secular Humanist societies should beware the recent rise in what theists are calling “New Atheism”, the approaches of people like Richard Dawkins and some YouTubers while welcome to the debate, need mitigating in the fairly liberal, University Environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that being honest and forthright about the fallacies of religious thought is honourable and that Richard Dawkins does it exremely well. He can put things into lay-english very well, has the force of integrity built up by years as a scientist, is witty and humourous whilst not falling into the trap of screaming and shouting to gain more attention.

This is great for television, in speeches and in debates but can in my view be a problem when this adversarial and occasionally combative philosophy pervades a group to the exclusion of all other viewpoints, as had until recently appeared to be the case at Southampton Atheist Society.

The problems of such a take-over range quite widely, but there are one or two to which I would particularly wish to draw attention:

Atheism – by definition of being a lack of belief in a deity or deities – is unique amongst belief systems in being a “broad church” comprising people who both have been brought up in a religious belief system and those who have not. In todays multicultural society that means that any group of atheists may consist of ex-Christians, ex-Muslims, ex-Jedi, Buddhists, cultural atheists and any number of other people. There is also a curious tendency for people of any ex-religious grouping to have a soft-spot for the religion which they left, especially if the transition was long and peaceful (Richard Dawkins himself has said that he holds a soft-spot for the Church of England).

It is very hard for some people to make a transition from one belief system to another, and it almost certainly isn’t as though you are switching on a light; as this video from the world of the YouTube may demonstrate:

If you are in the process of this transition when you come to university and you come up against the sort of “dawkinsian new atheism” that i’m talking about at the society’s stall, what impetus is there to join the society if the people involved won’t be sensitive to your lingering beliefs, or the soft spot you have for the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Some of the people I have spoken to about it say that these people are not just insensitive, but can be down right rude and condascending. Religious groups and churches are often more than willing to let atheists and agnostics attend their meetings and are open to debate, The ulterior motive being “we might convert them”. Why can we not be just as open but without the motive, afterall we just want people to think for themselves… don’t we?

This leads to the second problem I want to bring up, which is that any group showing “fundamentalist” tendencies, whatever they may be, is unlikely to attract the “moderate” members of their group needed to ameliorate their group and make it more appealing to outsiders. Now I’m not saying that you have to be wishy-washy liberals about everything, merely that just because someone shares your viewpoint or belief system doesn’t mean that they are forced to employ your methods and traditions.

As an atheist I more than likely agree with everything that the four horsemen (Dawkins, Dennet, Harris and Hitchens) say – but the way I like to do things is very, very different. I’m a scientist and hold to the belief that if you can expose someone to the evidence without biases and in a way that encourages the use of a scientific method and mind-set, you’ll be fantastically more convincing than a rhetorical preacher who requires the flock not to think.

Ben Brooks

Short Link for this post: http://wp.me/pFUij-5s

Scientific consensus reached on End-Mesozoic Mass Extinction

On the 1st to the 5th of this month, the Lunar and Planetary Institute held their annual conference, and published at the event and in the Journal Science was an article confirming and bolstering the consensus on the asteroid-kills-dinosaurs paradigm (Schulte et al. 2010).

I know what you’re thinking… “we already knew that!”

Well if your only access to science is independent TV, “common” sense and a secondary level education then you’d be right, but actually whilst the asteroid camp is in the majority, there are people out there including some of my lecturers at university who champion the idea that Flood Volcanism caused massive climatic perturbations which in turn killed off the dinosaurs, Such as Glasby and Kunzendorf (1996).

Now to be fair to the Flood Basalt proponents, their case is an interesting one, and one might expect a series of eruptions that emanate over one million cubic kilometres of lava would have a massive impact on the planet, and indeed the new paper admits that there are some shorter term effects from each eruptive event.

The Chicxulub impactor however would have ejected 5000 times more sulphur in a matter of minutes than erupted from the Deccan Traps in a whole year according to current models and measurements. Thus ensuring a major climatic spanner was well and truly thrown into the works which even anthropogenic global warming and its few but outspoken sceptics would swoon over.

Hopefully I’ve peaked your interest… which will make you want to go and read the paper; go on you know you want to!

Any way… The Dinosauria (Aves Excepted), Pterosaurs and Marine Reptiles, Coccolithophores etcetera met their demise at the hands of an Asteroid… until the next paper comes out with some new but contrary evidence!

IN OTHER NEWS:

There’s a new paper out in Science about the Snowball Earth Hypothesis (Kerr, 2010)… I haven’t read it, but you might find it interesting.

Here is the reason why your university lecturers insist on you using scientific journals and search engines such as Scopus or GeoRef…

If you want to see this for yourself, just go to http://scholar.google.com and search for "Deccan Traps KT Extinction".

When searching for articles for this post, AnswersinGenesis came up as the "Best" link according to Google Scholar! - yes that load of creationist crackpots who reckon the earth to be ~6000 years old.

Anywho, I’m now off for dinner and a kip.

Ben Brooks

Short-link for this post: http://wp.me/pFUij-1o

REFERENCES

Glasby, G.P. and Kunzendorf, H. (1996), Multiple factors in the origin of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary: the role of environmental stress and Deccan Trap volcanism in Geologische Rundschau Vol. 85, issue 2, pp.191-210. [DOI: 10.1007/BF02422228] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.springerlink.com/content/v335477328613407 (Accessed 10/03/2010)

Kerr, R.A (2010), Snowball Earth Has Melted Back To a Profound Wintry Mix in Science vol. 327, issue. 5970, pp.1186, [DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5970.1186] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5970/1186 (Accessed: 10/03/2010)

Schulte. P, et al. (2010), The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, in Science 327 (5970), 1214. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1177265] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/citmgr?gca=sci;327/5970/1214 (Accessed 10/03/10)

BBC Article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8550504.stm

Jediism a Religion should be?

Now it’s pretty damn obvious that as an atheist (currently) I am against any form of religion, for my own resons described elsewhere; and it takes a lot for me to defend anyone’s religious beliefs.

However I just found an article from September in the Guardian regarding the Holyhead Church of Jediism – or more specifically its’ founder:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/18/jedi-religion-tesco-hood-jones

Now before you read on you might wish to read the article, or at least the comments, as they are central to this post….

…ok… so my question is this: when religion can be defined as it is by the OED:

1 the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. 2 a particular system of faith and worship. 3 a pursuit or interest followed with devotion.
-Oxford English Dictionary (italics my own)

…how can people find it so easy to be discriminatory and be disrespectful of someone who holds the “Jedi” belief system?

Most of the non-satirical comments on the above article take the attitude that “this isn’t a religion because it is based on a film written by George Lucas and his type writer” – how singularly niaive… and here’s why…

  • Jedeo-Christian Religions – based on religious text, poorly documented authorship.
  • Islam – based on religious text, somewhat better documented authorship
  • Mormonism – based on religious text, well documented authorship.
  • Raelians – based on “alien abduction”, well docuented
  • Scientology – based on religious text, well documented authorship.
  • Buddhism – Based on Buddha and religious text, well documented
  • Spiritualism – based on fakery and cold reading, well documented
  • Bahai – an islamic offshoot, based on 1844 declaration
  • Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster – based on internet satire, well documented

…and that is only a small sampling of the recognised religions from around the world, and yet some (namely Spiritualism, The Raelians and the CoFSM) are based on complete and utter nonsense, although you probably know what I think of the others.

So what’s wrong with Jediism? is it because it is 33 years old? probably not, as that’s a lot older than the church of the FSM – notably recognised even though formed in only 2005. Is it just religious people forgetting that all religious movements have to start somewhere, and all of them start with a story? I think this is probably part of it, alongside the “scary concept” of an Atheistic religion, of which there are few, the largest being Buddhism.

Maybe something that ought to be pointed out that we currently recognise such heinous and anti-human-rights religions as Islam (in some forms) and yet when a peaceful religion such as this comes along, we don’t? If we are going to have religious tolerance then that tolerance should cover all faiths*.

I’ll leave the question open, but here’s my opinion:

I think that Jediism should be recognised as a religion as it is a belief system based on faith in an all pervasive “force” for which there is no evidence (unless someone finds something comparable to midi-chlorians) and whilst in that sense it should be considered a religion, it is also inherantly pro science, which is an added bonus.

At the end of the day, Jediism poses no threat to anyone of any faith due to the so-called Jedi code, and could only be considered threatening by people whose church would lose adherants to it, and the number of adherants that the movement has (according to the 2001 censuses in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – a proportion of which certainly were a joke) should in itself be a grounds for acceptance.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedi_census_phenomenon
Finally it is one of only two (the other being buddhism) that I could ever see me following (due to their more deistic, non-personal god perspectives).

* however where human rights and animal rights are affected (human/animal sacrifice) then I would disagree there.