Saturday, February 25, 2012

Atheist in Memory Lapse and Slavery Shock - Richard Dawkins - New Statesman

This is a shortened version of Richard's article in the latest version of New Statesman, published here with their permission. We will link to the full article once it becomes available online.

Some years ago, a colleague was admitted to hospital and a nurse came over to her bedside to fill in her personal form. “Religion?” “None.” Later, my colleague overheard a pair of nurses gossiping about her. “She doesn’t look like a nun.”

The absurd presumption that everyone has a religion, almost as a part of their identity, to be ticked off on a form the way one ticks the boxes for sex, eye colour, and known allergies, is ubiquitous in our society and it has yet to be expunged from our census forms.

The census of 2001 seemed to show that over 70 per cent of British people were Christian. This figure has been triumphantly and repeatedly invoked by politicians, prelates, and apologists for religion, in apparently persuasive justification for a strong Christian presence in our governance and resource allocation. The census showed that we are still a Christian country, so it is claimed to be appropriate that all schoolchildren in England and Wales are required by law to take part in a “daily act of worship of a broadly Christian character”; right that 26 Bishops should have seats reserved for them in Parliament, where they influence political decisions in very Christian ways – on discriminatory faith schools, on abortion, on assisted suicide, for instance. Not just the unelected bishops: members of the Commons with an eye to re-election must heed the Christian voice and curry favour with this powerful demographic. Seventy per cent of the population want Christian policies, and 70 per cent cannot be gainsaid.

Many of us suspected that the vaunted 70 per cent hid an embarrassment of non-Christian, non-religious vaguery. “Well, our family has always been Christian and I was christened; I’m not a Jew or a Hindu and certainly not a Muslim, I love singing carols, Jesus was obviously a good person, just look at that gorgeous sunset, and there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, so . . . yes, I’d better tick the Christian box.”

Naturally people are free to call themselves whatever they like, and if you want to call yourself Christian even though you don’t believe in God and have only the haziest idea of Christian teaching, that’s none of my business. But it very much is my business, and every citizen’s business, if the recorded demographic strength of Christianity in the country is falsely inflated by a very broad and loose definition of what it means to be Christian, and that swollen figure is then hijacked and exploited by partisans of a much more narrowly defined Christianity. If you ticked the Christian box because (like me) you are moved to tears by Schubert and the Milky Way, and therefore consider yourself a ‘spiritual’ person, your ‘spirituality’ should not be used to justify bishops in the Lords, or ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ in school. Ditto if you ticked the Christian box because (again like me) you have a nostalgic affection for the Book of Common Prayer and King’s College chapel.

It was for this reason, among others, that many of us campaigned to have the religion question omitted from the 2011 census. Unfortunately we failed. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) therefore fell back on Plan B. This was to commission a large and comprehensive opinion poll, in the week immediately following Last year’s census, to find out exactly what people who ticked the Christian box really believe, what lay behind their decision to accept the Christian label, and their attitudes to Christian-based legislation. Can politicians and others plausibly quote the percentage calling themselves Christian as ammunition in arguments about religion in schools, homosexual rights, abortion and voting Lords Spiritual?

The survey was done by Ipsos MORI in accordance with its strict rules to ensure accuracy and impartiality, and on 14 February we published the results in the form of two press releases and a link to the underlying data (all now on together with links to the extensive press coverage). The main conclusions are very much as we suspected. . . .

[The large middle section of the article, not shown here, can be read in New Statesman magazine (not on-line until next week, when we’ll give the link). It mostly gives details of our Ipsos MORI poll results, with commentary on them. New Statesman has also drawn up a helpful diagrammatic summary of some of the main findings of the poll, which they have placed immediately after the article.]

The bottom line is that anybody who advocates a strong place for religion in government cannot get away with claiming that ours is numerically a Christian country as a basis for giving religion privileged influence.

Now finally, to my joke title. During one of the many broadcast discussions of our survey, I used a vignette to illustrate how poorly acquainted Census Christians seem to be with their Bible. Ipsos MORI asked them to identify the first book of the New Testament from a four-way choice of Matthew, Genesis, Acts of the Apostles and Psalms, plus “Don’t know” and “Prefer not to say.” Only thirty five per cent correctly chose Matthew, 39 per cent per cent didn’t even guess, and the rest chose various wrong answers.

This is a truly stunning result. It is as though 64 per cent of the people who self-identify as devotees of English literature were unable pick out the author of Hamlet from a four-way choice of Shakespeare, Tennyson, Chaucer and Homer. It’s not that ignorance of the sequence of the arbitrarily assembled canon of biblical scrolls matters in itself. The point is that this is a telling indicator of how utterly out of touch with Christian culture modern British people are, even those who signed on as Christian in the census.

How would a Christian apologist deal with this devastating result? Dr Giles Fraser was in the radio discussion, and he dealt with it by going to extraordinary lengths to deflect attention in another direction altogether. He scored what he obviously thought was a “Gotcha!” point by asking me whether I knew the full title of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. He meant including the long, Victorian subtitle. I confidently said I knew it because, rather surprisingly, I do. But I then had one of those momentary lapses of memory that become increasingly common around my age. I stammered out an approximation, but was unable to recall the exact wording until I was cycling home and no longer under the pressure of speaking in a radio studio: “On the Origin of Species by means of natural selection – or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.”

Canon Fraser (whom, incidentally, I greatly admire for of his principled stand on the St Paul’s tent protest) cannot seriously have thought the two cases were remotely comparable. The Census Christians were not asked to recite anything from memory, but simply to pick out “Matthew” from a choice of four. Even if they had been asked to recite it, “Matthew” is just one word, while the full title of Darwin’s great work has 21. The comparison is indeed so inappropriate that, far from being a real gotcha, Fraser’s diversionary tactic can only be seen as a measure of desperation, designed to conceal the embarrassing ignorance of their holy book shown by 64 per cent of Census Christians. In any case Darwin’s Origin, I hope I don’t have to add, is nobody’s holy book.

The argument was only the first in an astonishing series of diversionary moves in the national press this past week, some of them amounting to outright smear tactics. Perhaps the most absurd (of many) was the Sunday Telegraph hack who trumpeted a story that my remote ancestors had owned slaves in Jamaica. Well, that settles it: Dawkins is an atheist and his great great great great great great grandfather owned slaves. Gotcha! Case closed. I can quite understand why those whose aim is to protect at all costs the privileged status of Christianity in UK public life would want to deflect attention from the very significant findings of this important Ipsos MORI research. These are facts, not opinions, they aren't going to go away, and no amount of game-playing or smear tactics or irrelevant digression is going to change them.

In modern Britain, not even Christians put Christianity anywhere near the heart of their lives, and they don't want it put at the heart of public life either. David Cameron and Baroness Warsi, please take note.


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Ireland is also more secular than we thought - Grania Spingies -

Grania Spingies, of Atheist Ireland, has contributed a short post about a European country that most of us see as religiously retrograde. It turns out that it’s far more secular than we thought.

Ireland may also be a lot more liberal and secular than some would have you believe

by Grania Spingies

Last week the Ipsos MORI polls conducted by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science revealed that the majority of self-defined Christians living in the UK tend to have more far more liberal and secular views than those promoted by Christian campaign groups. The reaction from those groups has been predictably both outraged and outrageous, but the message is fairly clear: the highly conservative values espoused by such lobbies do not reflect those of the Christian majority on whose behalf they claim to speak.

A recent government-sponsored poll shows very similar attitudes in Ireland. The poll is based on the Irish Referendum in 2011 (in Ireland the Constitution can be amended only by popular referendum), and was conducted by the Irish government for political reasons: to find out why people voted as they did. Unlike the Dawkins Foundation poll, then, this one was not conducted by a pro-secularist organization, and thus cannot be criticized on that count.

The poll shows that despite being a “Catholic” country (the 2006 Census put the proportion of Catholics above 86%) and in spite of Irish religious lobby groups insisting that the conservative status quo remains, it seems that a comfortable majority of Irish people do not take their cues about morality from the Church at all. In fact, an article in Thursday’s Irish Examiner by June McEnroe shows that the Irish overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, and also do not support Ireland’s ill-conceived new Blasphemy Law.

Read on


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GOP TEA PARTY's New Target (demonizing) The Girl Scouts of America. - Chris Bowers - Daily Kos

Click here to add your name to the petition supporting the Girl Scouts, before this new attack spreads.

Because the Girl Scouts do not denounce birth control, non-Christians, or the LGBT community, a growing number of wingnuts have decided that the youth organization promotes abortion, paganism and "homosexual lifestyles." Some churches have even begun kicking out Girl Scout troops:

Several Girl Scout troops in Chantilly, Va., have been banned from meeting at a local Catholic church and a neighboring school.[...]

According to the Arlington Diocese, the pastor did not believe the National Girl Scouts membership to the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts aligned with the message of the church, stemming from a perceived connection between WAGGGS and Planned Parenthood

The anti-Girl Scout fringe also has at least one elected official on its side: Indiana Republican State Rep. Bob Morris refused to vote for a resolution celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts because after "talking to some well-informed constituents" and conducting "a small amount of web research," he determined that the Girl Scouts are a "tactical arm of Planned Parenthood" that encourages "homosexual lifestyles."

Don't let social conservatives smear the Girl Scouts for promoting tolerance, diversity and responsible education. Click here to add your name to the petition supporting the Girl Scouts.

Thanks for all you do, Chris Bowers, Daily Kos


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Church 'does not own marriage' - - - BBC News

The Church does not "own" marriage nor have the exclusive right to say who can marry, a government minister has said.

alt text
The Government says legalising gay marriage would be change for the better

Equalities minister Lynne Featherstone said the government was entitled to introduce same-sex marriages, which she says would be a "change for the better".

Her comments come as ministers prepare to launch a public consultation on legalising gay marriage next month.

Traditionalists want the law on marriage to remain unchanged.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Ms Featherstone said: "Some believe the government has no right to change it (marriage) at all; they want to leave tradition alone.

'Reflect society'
"I want to challenge that view - it is the government's fundamental job to reflect society and to shape the future, not stay silent where it has the power to act and change things for the better."

Ms Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat minister, responded to comments made by Lord Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that "not even the Church" owns marriage.

She said: "(Marriage) is owned by neither the state nor the Church, as the former Archbishop Lord Carey rightly said.

"It is owned by the people."

Ms Featherstone also appealed to people not to "polarise" the debate about same-sex marriages.

"This is not a battle between gay rights and religious beliefs," she said.

"This is about the underlying principles of family, society and personal freedoms."

Read on


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Friday, February 24, 2012

Mormons baptize Holocaust victim Anne Frank posthumously, says report - - -

Romney Defends Conservative Values,...

- - ABC News

Romney Defends Conservative Values, Says Obama Has ‘Secular Agenda’

Graham Not Sold on Obama’s...

- - ABC News

Graham Not Sold on Obama’s Christianity, Santorum Warned of Satan in 2008

The problem in public life isn’t Islam,...

Doug Saunders - The Globe and Mail

The problem in public life isn’t Islam, but religion itself

Note that this article is from Feb 18. There was a call in show on the BBC this morning and there are most likely comments relating to the coverage of Warsi's position in this article. The post on is here

Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s...

Reviewed by John Gray - New Statesman

Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

"The nature of human beings and the...

Richard Dawkins & The Archbishop of...

"The nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin"

The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, Thursday 23-Feb 2012 and streamed live

The Church wins the award for...

Matt Ridley - The Times (London)

The Church wins the award for intolerance

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Will your kid be taught that climate change is a hoax? - Brad Plumer - The Washington Post

Thanks to Daisy Skipper for the link.

One revelation from the recent Heartland Institute document leak is that the group is crafting a K-12 curriculum to teach kids that global warming is “controversial.” Heartland officials have confirmed this. So is climate change set to join evolution as the next big classroom controversy?

Things do seem to be trending that way. Joshua Rosenau spends most of his time defending the teaching of evolution in schools for the National Center for Science Education. But a few years ago, he noticed that the teachers he was doing workshops with were far more interested in learning how to talk about global warming. “They were getting pressure from their own communities, from parents,” Rosenau says. “And they were looking for help on how to deal with this issue.”

At the moment, it’s still unclear how frequently spats over climate change actually break out in classrooms. There are some 17,000 school districts around the country, and there’s no set curriculum for climate science. In some states, students might first encounter the topic in middle school; in others, it might show up in high-school earth science, or biology. “The main things we’re looking at right now are state standards and textbooks,” says Rosenau, whose organization is only beginning to gather data on how climate science actually gets taught. But even that’s an imperfect metric — a state-approved textbook might lay out basic climate science clearly, but there’s no guarantee teachers will use it.

Read more


Santorum, Satan and the Fate of the Freeworld - R. Elisabeth Cornwell -

The issue of ‘faith’ is coming up even more than usual these past few weeks as the Republican primaries heat up and the remaining candidates are vying for the privilege of being the ‘most Christian’. We’ve seen the scramble over health insurance, hormonal contraceptives and ‘religious freedom’ (I foolishly thought the Constitution protected individual freedoms not the freedom of the Catholic church to dictate whether American citizens could be denied certain types of health insurance), but now we are getting to the heart of the issue.

For example, we have Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, who said that he could not verify that President Obama is a Christian. “I just have to assume that he is,”.... But he has no question about Rick Santorum. “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. … I think he’s a man of faith.(1)” I am so glad he cleared that up as it has been weighing heavily on my mind.

I have to take Mr. Graham’s word on Santorum, after all he has a lot more experience with religion and politics than I do. There is a lot of evidence as well, as the news media are now noting that Santorum took a pretty strong stance about Satan’s reach into American society back in 2008. In fact, according to Santorum, Satan so dislikes our American goodness that the only country for Satan left to attack is the United States(2). If only we had invested in ‘Star Wars’ defense technology.

Gosh, I guess we really have irritated Satan of late - in fact Santorum was clear about that - its been two decades ago when Satan went into a full offensive - about the time George I was President.

What really shocked me was that the entire fall of mankind apparently is the fault of - wait for it - academics! Talk about some good old fashioned Catholic guilt!! Whoa! I am an academic (and an evolutionary psychologist at that, which probably makes me really evil). I work for an academic too - but I think he often is put on the evil list even without his academic credentials. I’ve been blamed for a lot of things, but the fall of mankind - I really didn’t know I had that sort of clout.

I was a Sputnik kid - my education was spurred on by the fear that the Soviets would rule the skies. It was a great boon (so I thought) for public education. The government poured a whole lot of money into everything from kindergarten to college - especially in the maths and sciences. But now, boy do I feel like a schmuck - the whole thing was a ploy by Satan. I guess he probably had a direct line to Nikita Khruschev and talked him into sending up that unmanned satellite to start the domino effect leading up to Obama being elected (according to Santorum, Obama is the first post-modern President and a sign of Satan’s success) and the fall of the United States of America.

So now I’m intrigued. Gosh, all this Satan take-over stuff happened right after I was born. Wow! I was right here on this planet when Satan started his entire plan to take over the United States. It’s kind of cool really to think I have a ring-side seat to all this drama.

Now Satan is really clever, because after he corrupted all the academics who then corrupted all the students (like me), he went after the Protestant Church. I sort of paused when I heard Santorum say that the Catholic Church wasn’t bothered much by Satan and it was strictly the Protestants who fell to his seductive nature. Really? Was it the Holy Water?

But then it occurred to me that Satan didn’t have to work on corrupting the Catholic Church because there were plenty of priests who were busily corrupting altar-boys - so why mess with a good thing - right? The Protestants obviously needed to be taken out.

This is all riveting stuff. Satan didn’t have to mess with any of the other nations either, because of course they weren’t America - and America is, well God’s special place. That made me wonder if Santorum was perhaps more Mormon than Catholic. The head of the Catholic Church is in Rome, so I would have thought that’s where Satan would have started - but I would be wrong. That made me wonder though because according to the Mormons the US is more sacred than the Vatican - and that is rather confusing when it comes to why Satan would pick America and not the Vatican to start his evil overthrow. Well, that’s all that sort of complicated theology that we atheists (did I mention that part about being an atheist? It’s not my fault, you can blame that on Sputnik) don’t understand. That’s why we are so angry.

I digress....

It gets better! Really! After the Protestant Church became a shambles and as Santorum said “...gone from the world of Christianity”, then Satan went after culture. Wait, wait... hold up here. Isn’t Franklin Graham a Protestant? So if he is gone from the world of Christianity and says that Santorum is Christian and that Obama is ‘uncertain’ - could that be Satan messing with us again?

Oh gosh, I really should have studied more theology because this is getting so complicated!

After academics, Protestants, and Culture - it was finally the turn of politics and the wealthy. Whew - they had a pretty easy ride while Satan was busy with causing the fall of education, religion and culture. Santorum gives a great example of how politics has fallen the way of Satan. This guy running for the US Senate gave an interview to the Chicago Sun Times - and when asked what he thought sin was he replied, “Being out of alignment with my values.” Oh my gosh! Satan written all over it! I’m just horrified!

Oh dear Darwin! I voted for the Satan-tainted Obama when he ran for President - in fact I was really active in his campaign. But you can’t hold me responsible, it really isn’t my fault. How was I to know that in the year following my birth, Satan and Kruschev had this plan to increase educational opportunities for all Americans and that led to the now President - yes - I’m talking about OUR President - actually thinking that his values are important. That Satan guy - whoa - what a devil.

I am afraid I digressed a bit - but it really was important because it is the only way to really understand what the Republican primaries are all about. It’s about a spiritual war. I thought (must be from that Political Science course from Professor Beelzebub) that the issues were about economics, about international relations, and the welfare of the Republic. Honestly, I had no idea that Satan had laid down this plan to overthrow America. It is interesting that he chose the first Black president to do this - but that leads us back to the Mormons - are we sure Santorum isn’t Mormon?

Now that I fully understand the issues, I’ll be paying closer attention. I highly recommend listening to the entire speech by Mr. Santorum to Ave Maria University - the link is below. I think it will really change some minds - I hope you’ll agree and share it with your friends.



BREAKING NEWS: Error Undoes Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Results - Edwin Cartlidge - Science Insider

The world has forgotten the real...

Michael Hanlon - The Telegraph

At one point, governments in Europe, including ours, were offering to fly expats home from places where the radiation levels were lower than the natural background count in Aberdeen or Cornwall.

Attacks paid for by big business are...

Robin McKie - The Observer

Attacks paid for by big business are
'driving science into a dark era'

12 Visualizations That Will Change the...

Drew Skau -

The Scale of the Universe by Cary and Michael Huang. This version has an interactive slider and lets you scroll through the zoom levels yourself.

Alzheimer's brain plaques 'rapidly...

James Gallagher - BBC Health

"This is an unprecedented finding. Previously, the best existing treatment for Alzheimer's disease in mice required several months to reduce plaque in the brain."

Gene therapy 'gave me sight back'

Helen Briggs - BBC News - Health

Three US citizens who lost their sight in childhood have reported a dramatic improvement in vision after having gene therapy in both eyes.

A brutal price still paid for daring to challenge faith - Amol Rajan - The Independent

Proof, if proof were needed, that "militant secularism" isn't having such a great time of it in modern Britain has been in plentiful supply over the past week, during which there has been a sustained and vicious assault in our media on one of our most distinguished academics. Professor Richard Dawkins (FRS, FRSL) presumably personifies militant secularism, and has been made to suffer for it.

In the Daily Mail last week, A N Wilson launched a nasty attack on him, comparing him, among other things, to a "spotty adolescent". The lead interview in The Sunday Times was one long personal attack on his character, rather than an examination of his ideas. My distinguished colleague Mary Ann Sieghart, who at least has met him, described Dawkins yesterday as "puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant". Rod Liddle wrote a blog for The Spectator with the ludicrous title "Dawkins exposed".

But the pièce de résistance was in The Sunday Telegraph, with an unimprovable exhibition of specious logic. Professor Dawkins, it gushed, "is descended from slave owners and his family estate was bought with a fortune partly created by forced labour. One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins, amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744".

Ah yes, of course. Professor Dawkins must be wrong about God because of what his forefathers got up to 260 years ago.

Most of his critics have never met him, of course, or read any of his books (bestsellers or otherwise). I have never met him either, but, regardless, here are some things I know about him. As the first Charles Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford between 1995 and 2008, he did an extraordinary amount to advance the knowledge and position of science in our country, in fields far beyond his specialism of evolutionary biology.

Read on

See also: Amol Rajan: The Baroness, the comment and the unholy trinity


Atheist in memory lapse and slavery shock - - - New Statesman

RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI Poll #2: UK...

Paula Kirby/RDFRS UK -...

PART 2: Results of an RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI poll into the religious and social attitudes of adults recorded as Christian in the 2011 UK Census

RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI Poll #1: How...

Paula Kirby/RDFRS UK -...

PART 1: Results of an RDFRS UK/Ipsos MORI poll into the religious and social attitudes of adults recorded as Christian in the 2011 UK Census

Religion may become extinct in nine...

Jason Palmer - BBC News website

The team took census data stretching back as far as a century from countries in which the census queried religious affiliation: Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland.

Graham Not Sold on Obama’s Christianity, Santorum Warned of Satan in 2008 - - - ABC News

Eric Gay/AP Photo

The 2012 race turned to God, Satan and religion when Franklin Graham said he’s surer that Rick Santorum is a Christian than President Obama and a 2008 Santorum speech surfaced in which the top GOP candidate told a religious audience that Satan is attacking U.S. institutions.

Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, said on MSNBC Tuesday that he could not verify that President Obama is a Christian. “I just have to assume that he is,” Graham said.

But he has no question about Rick Santorum. “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it. … I think he’s a man of faith.”

Santorum’s faith was in the news for another reason, too. The Pennsylvania Republican said in 2008, two years after losing his Senate seat and four years before seeking the presidency, that Satan was attacking U.S. institutions in government and religion.

The comments, not before mentioned during the 2012 election cycle, were the lead item on the Drudge Report Tuesday. Santorum has surged to even or even ahead of Mitt Romney in opinion polls, including in Romney’s home state of Michigan, where Republican voters cast their preference for the GOP nominee next Tuesday.

Read more


Romney Defends Conservative Values, Says Obama Has ‘Secular Agenda’ - - - ABC News

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

SHELBY TOWNSHIP, Mich. – Mitt Romney attacked President Obama’s “secular agenda” during a town hall in which he drew contrasts between himself and GOP rival Rick Santorum and defended his stance on conservative social issues for voters still making up their minds before next week’s primary.

“You expect the president of the United States to be sensitive to that freedom and protect it and, unfortunately, perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda, they have fought against religion,” Romney said, responding to a question about religious freedoms, in particular the Obama administration’s recent controversial attempt to require all institutions, including hospitals and colleges with religious affiliations, to offer free birth control and other contraceptives.

The policy was later rewritten to allow certain institutions to refuse to pay for the contraception and instead allow for private insurance to offer the cost of the coverage.

“I can assure you, as someone who has understood very personally the significance of religious tolerance and religious freedom and the right to one’s own conscience, I will make sure that we never again attack religious liberty in the United States of America,” Romney said, seemingly referring to his own Mormon faith, which has frequently been questioned during his various campaigns.

Romney, who was introduced by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette as “an underdog,” spoke optimistically about his chances in his home state, telling reporters when asked about his state of mind, “Plan on winning, hope to win.”
Read more


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There’s More to Nothing Than We Knew - Dennis Overbye - The New York Times

Joshua Lott for The New York Times
MULTIVERSE PROPONENT The cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss

Why is there something, rather than nothing at all?

It is, perhaps, the mystery of last resort. Scientists may be at least theoretically able to trace every last galaxy back to a bump in the Big Bang, to complete the entire quantum roll call of particles and forces. But the question of why there was a Big Bang or any quantum particles at all was presumed to lie safely out of scientific bounds, in the realms of philosophy or religion.

Now even that assumption is no longer safe, as exemplified by a new book by the cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss. In it he joins a chorus of physicists and cosmologists who have been pushing into sacred ground, proclaiming more and more loudly in the last few years that science can explain how something — namely our star-spangled cosmos — could be born from, if not nothing, something very close to it. God, they argue, is not part of the equation. The book, “A Universe From Nothing,” is a best seller and follows recent popular tomes like “God Is Not Great,” by the late Christopher Hitchens; “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins; and “The Grand Design,” by the British cosmologist Stephen Hawking (with Leonard Mlodinow), which generated headlines two years ago with its assertion that physicists do not need God to account for the universe.

Dr. Krauss is a pint-size spark plug of erudition and ambition, who often seems to be jetting off in several directions at once on more missions than can be listed on a business card. Among other things he is Foundation Professor and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University.

Read more


Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion - Reviewed by John Gray - New Statesman

Religion for Atheists: a Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion
Alain de Botton
Hamish Hamilton, 320pp, £18.99

“Religion," writes Alain de Botton, "is above all a symbol of what exceeds us and an education in the advantages of recognising our paltriness." It is a thought reminiscent of Blaise Pascal. One of the creators of modern probability theory, the 17th-century thinker invented an early calculating machine, the Pascaline, along with a version of the syringe and a hydraulic press. He made major contributions to geometry and helped shape the future development of mathematics. He also designed the first urban mass transit system.

Pascal was one of the founders of the modern world. Yet the author of the Pensées - an apology for Christianity begun after his conversion to Catholicism - was also convinced of the paltriness of the human mind. By any standards a scientific genius and one of the most intelligent human beings that may ever have lived, Pascal never supposed that humankind's problems could be solved if only people were smarter.

The paradox of an immensely powerful mind mistrusting the intellect is not new. Pascal needed intellectual humility because he had so many reasons to be proud of his intelligence. It is only the illiteracy of the current generation of atheists that leads them to think religious practitioners must be stupid or thoughtless. Were Augustine, Maimonides and al-Ghazali - to mention only religious thinkers in monotheist traditions - lacking in intellectual vitality? The question is absurd but the fact it can be asked at all might be thought to pose a difficulty for de Botton. His spirited and refreshingly humane book aims to show that religion serves needs that an entirely secular life cannot satisfy. He will not persuade those for whom atheism is a militant creed. Such people are best left with their certainties, however childish.

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The problem in public life isn’t Islam, but religion itself - Doug Saunders - The Globe and Mail

Thanks to Brendan Reid for the link.

Note that this article is from Feb 18. There was a call in show on the BBC this morning and there are most likely comments relating to the coverage of Warsi's position in this article. The post on is here.

We always knew it could happen: A devout Muslim heads a conservative political party that takes office in a multicultural Western country, then leads a campaign to enforce mandatory prayer and to lobby for religious-based values and laws. How will people react?

Well, it happened in Britain this week, and here’s how they reacted: Judges and leading thinkers fought back in the name of a secular state, but the Queen, the Pope and Britain’s right-wing newspapers all spoke up in support of the Muslim party leader’s campaign.

This was because the leader in question is Baroness Warsi, chairman of the Conservative Party and a senior minister in David Cameron’s government. She’s a popular figure among Tories and an entertaining personality who frequently appears on British TV. She’s also a devout Muslim, a faith-based cultural conservative and a staunch defender of religion’s role in public life.

Her campaign began Monday, after Britain’s High Court ruled that the practice of holding prayers during municipal council meetings is unconstitutional (as, by extension, may be those held during sittings of the House of Commons). Prayer, the judge ruled, is a private matter that has no place in the formal proceedings of a legal assembly.

The Baroness shot back, saying her country is falling prey to “militant secularization” and arguing that religious belief should be “a voice in the public sphere.” She went to Rome and met the Pope, who appeared to give her arguments his blessing. Religion, she said, should be a basis of public life: “To create a more just society, Britons must feel stronger in their religious identities.”
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On rice and arsenic - Deborah Blum - Speak Easy Science - PLoS Blogs

Last week, a team of researchers from Dartmouth University released a widely publicized study with the somewhat provocative title  “Arsenic, Organic Foods and Brown Rice Syrup.”

The study was yet another general reminder that words like “organic” or “natural” are not synonymous with the word “safe.”  But more specifically it detailed unexpected amounts of poisonous arsenic compounds in everything from infant formula to snack bars, especially compounds containing rice or sweetened with brown organic rice syrup as a healthier alternative to high fructose corn syrup.

I’ll return to the question of exact amounts later; let us just note for now that all findings were in part per billions,  numbers that may raise concerns about long-term exposure but do not suggest that anyone will be dropping dead after snacking on a cereal bar.

The more interesting immediate question anyway, at least to me, was:  why were Dartmouth chemist Brian Jackson and his colleagues looking for arsenic in these supposedly healthy products at all?  I rapidly discovered though that I just hadn’t been paying attention. They were simply following up on an issue well known in health science, a body of work establishing a troubling connection between rice and arsenic in the food supply.

In fact, my use of the word “unexpected” probably is more accurate in describing dismayed public reaction to the results.  The authors of the new study emphasized that their working hypothesis, from the start, was that  brown rice syrup would introduce arsenic into these foods.

So why rice in particular?

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Plant blooms after 30,000 years in permafrost - Kate Ravilious - New Scientist

A plant that last flowered when woolly mammoths roamed the plains is back in bloom.

Biologists have resurrected a 30,000-year-old plant, cultivating it from fruit tissue recovered from frozen sediment in Siberia. The plant is by far the oldest to be brought back from the dead: the previous record holder was a sacred lotus, dating back about 1200 years.

The late David Gilichinsky from the Soil Cryology Laboratory in Moscow, Russia, and colleagues recovered the fruits of the ice age flowering plant (Silene stenophylla) from a fossilised squirrel burrow in frozen sediments near the Kolyma river in north-east Siberia. Radiocarbon dating of the fruit suggests the squirrel stashed it around 31,800 years ago, just before the ice rolled in.

By applying growth hormones to the fruit tissue, Gilichinsky and his colleagues managed to kick-start cell division and ultimately produce a viable flowering plant.

Modern day S. stenophylla looks similar to the resurrected plant, but has larger seeds and fewer buds. Modern plants also grow roots more rapidly. Studying these and other differences will reveal how the plant has evolved since the last ice age.

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Attacks paid for by big business are 'driving science into a dark era' - Robin McKie - The Observer

Thanks to Derek Morr for the link.

Researchers attending one of the world's major academic conferences 'are scared to death of the anti-science lobby'

The vast majority of scientists on both sides of the Atlantic say rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere threaten to increase temperatures to dangerous levels. Photograph: Paul Souders/Corbis

Most scientists, on achieving high office, keep their public remarks to the bland and reassuring. Last week Nina Fedoroff, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), broke ranks in a spectacular manner.

She confessed that she was now "scared to death" by the anti-science movement that was spreading, uncontrolled, across the US and the rest of the western world.

"We are sliding back into a dark era," she said. "And there seems little we can do about it. I am profoundly depressed at just how difficult it has become merely to get a realistic conversation started on issues such as climate change or genetically modified organisms."

The remarks of Fedoroff, one of the world's most distinguished agricultural scientists, are all the more remarkable given their setting.

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Online debate between Russell Blackford and American theologian/historian William Cavanaugh - - - Religion and Ethics

Throughout the seventeenth century, European civilisation was tortured by religious conflict. Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and other political thinkers of the time wrote against a background of terrible dislocations: the wars of religion; religion-tinged political struggles between great European dynasties; and the ruinous conflict between the British Crown and parliament.

The troubled times provided an occasion to rethink the proper relationship between the claims of religion and the operation of worldly (or secular) political power.

Although Hobbes's greatest single work, Leviathan (1651), consists largely of theological analysis to defend his model of the state, its most important line of argument uses entirely secular reasoning. That is, Hobbes analyses the function and operation of the state in terms of human beings' worldly interests.

For Hobbes, the state should aim at limited secular goals, such as peace and security, and the kind of material prosperity that these facilitate. It should view religious rivalries as just one more threat to peace.

However, he thought, the secular ruler cannot be merely indifferent to religious matters. To ensure that the peace is maintained, the ruler must suppress outward expressions of all religions except one - no rivalry of doctrines can be allowed.

Other seventeenth-century thinkers moved decisively in a more liberal direction. Among these, Locke was enormously influential. In A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), he accepts the Hobbesian analysis, insofar as he sees the state as the result of a social contract and defines its role in entirely secular terms. But he draws totally different practical conclusions.

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Relevant posts on Religion and Ethics website 25-Jan Russell Blackford (above) 3-Feb William Cavanaugh 8-Feb Russell Blackford 13-Feb William Cavanaugh


Monday, February 20, 2012

Dizzy with Excitement over “Moving Secularism Forward” - Paul Fidalgo - Center for Inquiry

I just signed on with CFI last week as their new communications guy, so I’m still settling in and getting a sense of what’s going on. So you’ll have to forgive me if some things that seem like old hat to regular readers of the CFI blogs are huge revelations to me. And I’m not just talking about the fact that CFI headquarters has three little kitchens—two of which have stoves. That’s crazy!

Really, what I’m flabbergasted by is the fantastic lineup of speakers at our conference in Orlando, mere days away, starting March 1st. It’s really something to behold, and I can’t imagine any member of our ever-growing community not finding at least several reasons why Moving Secularism Forward is a must-attend event.

I confess, I didn’t know anything about it. Granted, I didn’t find out who Justin Bieber is until very, very recently. Suffice it to say, there are simply some things that escape my attention. Don’t tell the folks who just hired me, though.

Thankfully, I’m now a member of the CFI family, and I will absolutely be there. Let me give you an idea of why you should be, too.

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The Church wins the award for intolerance - Matt Ridley - The Times (London)

Of course religion is central to our culture. It spent a thousand years stamping out rivals

For people who profess to be kind and tolerant, the defenders of Christianity can be remarkably unpleasant and intolerant. For all his frank and sometimes brusque bluster, I cannot think of anything that Richard Dawkins has said that is nearly as personally offensive as the insults that have been deluged upon his head in the past few days.

“Puffed-up, self-regarding, vain, prickly and militant,” snaps one commentator. Running a “Foundation for Enlightening People Stupider than Professor Richard Dawkins,” scoffs another. Descended from slave owners, smears a third, visiting the sins of a great-great-great-great-great- great-grandfather upon the son (who has made and given away far more money than he inherited).

In all the coverage of last week’s War of Dawkins Ear, there has been a consistent pattern of playing the man, not the ball: refusing to engage with his ideas but thinking only of how to find new ways to insult him. If this is Christian, frankly, you can keep it.

By contrast, where is the condemnation of Baroness Warsi’s extraordinary article last week claiming that “militant secularisation is ... deeply intolerant ... and demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes”, as if Dawkins had sent people to gas chambers? The closest things to a totalitarian society today (neo-religious North Korea apart) are theocracies such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, places where it is not much fun to be gay or atheist or have two X chromosomes. For the religious to lecture the secular on tolerance is rich. Lady Warsi went on: “When we look at the deep distrust between some communities today, there is no doubt that faith has a key role to play in bridging these divides.” Excuse me, there is a great deal of doubt about that. Tell a persecuted Christian in Iran, a divided community in Ulster or a victim of Osama bin Laden that there is no doubt that faith plays a key role in bridging divides.

Sure, there have been atheist dictators such as Stalin, just as there have been vegetarian ones such as Hitler, and Catholic ones such as Franco (enthusiastically supported by the Church). But our own free and tolerant society became so only as it managed to throw off religious dogmatism. Tudor and Cromwellian England were the very archetype of a totalitarian society. My ancestral relation Nicholas Ridley was burned slowly to death, screaming in pain, as a spectator sport merely because he believed that the body of Christ was figuratively, but not literally, present at the communion. That’s all in the distant past, insist the Dawkins bashers, and today the Church is all about forgiveness and community. Largely true and wholly welcome. No doubt good Anglican vicars are too embarrassed to read from the chapters of the Bible where God advocates gang rape, genocide and murder, preferring the nice bits. But if some of the Bible can be ignored, what is so special about the rest?

Above all, why is it necessary to insist on the truth of an arbitrary fairytale from a particular pastoral society in order to teach morality? Might it not actually hinder the spread of virtue to insist that the only reason you should be kind is because somebody says a supernatural entity told you to, two millennia ago? The Church and its rituals are central to all the things that are good about modern communities, say the religious. But that is because society tamed the Church, at least much as vice versa.

To say that religion is part of our culture, therefore we should cherish it, is a circular argument. The Church spent a thousand years intolerantly stamping out rival strands of culture, insisting that every ritual from birth to death be celebrated in its halls. So yes, it is part of my culture.

Last year I stood in wonder before the extraordinary 15th-century carved wooden altarpiece of St Mary’s Basilica in Cracow, fascinated by the story that each of the apostles is actually a portrait of a Cracow merchant. Such art, you will sometimes hear, would never have been created without religion. Bunk. The only way that Veit Stoss could do his brilliant portraiture was by dressing it up as yet another portrayal of 12 boring old Palestinians. Think how much more variety we eventually got from artists once they were not confined to doing saints.

Some years ago, a colleague snapped: “I don’t force my views on Dawkins, why should he force his on me?” I held my tongue, but what ran through my mind was a memory of being forced, yes forced, to attend church every day at my school, preached at from the pulpit without right of reply, and my delight when the school allowed daily attendance at a secular alternative instead.

Occasionally, after that, I still went to chapel rather than the secular version, because it was no longer compulsory.

Matt Ridley is the author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves
Link to the article in The Times


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Religious freedom and religious privilege - Russell Blackford - Talking Philosophy

I enjoyed reading Mike LaBossiere’s post entitled “Church & State: Immaculate Contraception”, but I can’t resist the impulse to add a post of my own – perhaps because I lack free will in the matter, but mainly because I devote an entire chapter of Freedom of Religion and the Secular State to this sort of issue (so it is kind of on my mind), and certainly because it has become even more topical than usual.

In setting the scene, Professor LaBossiere describes a provision that the Roman Catholic Church is currently objecting to in the United State: “This law requires that health insurance plans offer free birth control. Since this would include Catholic affiliated hospitals and schools, the Catholic Church has been pushing back against the law.” He adds: “Not surprisingly, this is being portrayed as an attack on religious liberty and the values of Catholicism. However, it is rather important to note that the law does not apply to churches, but rather only to institutions, such as hospitals and schools, that serve a large number of non-Catholics and also receive federal money.”

He raises an interesting point – can we really say that “birth control”, i.e. the use of contraceptive technologies, is against Catholic doctrine if (as is the case) most Catholics, at least in the relevant jurisdiction, are not morally opposed to it? I’ll leave that issue to him, though let me say in passing that, for now, and into the foreseeable future, birth control is most certainly against official Catholic doctrine. In particular, the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae is still binding in the sense of being the Church’s official and unmodified statement on the matter.

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The Sins of the Fathers [Also in Polish] - Richard Dawkins -

See bottom for the Polish translation

Yesterday evening I was telephoned by a reporter who announced himself as Adam Lusher from the Sunday Telegraph. At the end of a week of successfully rattling cages, I was ready for yet another smear or diversionary tactic of some kind, but in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined the surreal form this one was to take. I obviously can’t repeat what was said word-for-word (my poor recall of long strings of words has this week been highly advertised), and I may get the order of the points wrong, but this is approximately how the conversation went.

“We’ve been researching the history of the Dawkins family, and have discovered that your ancestors owned slaves in Jamaica in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. What have you got to say about that?”

I replied, “Your ancestors probably did too. It’s just that we happen to know who my ancestors were and perhaps we don’t know yours.”

He persisted by reeling off several of my forebears including, I think, Henry Dawkins (b 1698) and his father Colonel Richard Dawkins (d.o.b. unknown to me), giving gruesome (and indeed deplorable) figures about the numbers of slaves they owned, asking me whether I felt any guilt about it.

I replied by quoting Numbers 14:18 (from memory so – oh, calamity – I may not have been quite word-perfect), that charming little verse about the Lord “visiting the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation”: a nice example, incidentally, of biblical morality.

When he persisted with his insinuations I made my somewhat peremptory excuses and left (I was in a hurry because I was about to go on stage in London to give a lecture and wanted to prepare for it).

I’d scarcely had time to re-open my lecture notes when he rang back: “Darwinian natural selection has a lot to do with genes, do you agree?” Of course I agreed. “Well, some people might suggest that you could have inherited a gene for supporting slavery from Henry Dawkins.”

“You obviously need a genetics lesson,” I replied. Henry Dawkins was my great great great great great grandfather, so approximately one in 128 of my genes are inherited from him (that’s the correct figure; in the heat of the moment on the phone, I got it wrong by a couple of powers of two).

Setting aside his scientific illiteracy and his frankly defamatory insinuation that I might condone slavery, the point about powers of two is interesting enough to warrant a digression. Following a line of reasoning spelled out in The Ancestor’s Tale, we can calculate that Adam Lusher and I (and you and I and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all) share most of our ancestors and literally all our more distant ancestors. What is a little less obvious is that the ancestor we most recently share probably lived only a few centuries ago. Almost certainly we are all descended from slave owners (and indeed from slaves), if you go back far enough, and you probably don’t have to go back very far. It’s just that only a few of us are saddled with, to quote J B S Haldane, a historically labelled Y-chromosome. As it happens, my ancestry also boasts an unbroken line of six generations of Anglican clergymen, from the Rev William Smythies (b 1635) to his great great great grandson the Rev Edward Smythies (b 1818). I wonder if Adam thinks I’ve inherited a gene for piety too.

Our piercing investigative journalist then challenged me to deny that William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery campaigner, was a Christian. (So, presumably, were the slave-owners. Just about everyone in England was Christian at the time and Henry and Colonel Richard surely were.) This provoked me to give him yet another lecture, this time expounding Steven Pinker’s brilliant book, The Better Angels of our Nature, about how we are getting steadily gentler and more civilised as the generations go by, whether or not we are religious. Our changing moral values carry a strong statistical signal of the century and even the decade in which we live, but virtually no signal at all of whether we are religious.

His next volley was the suggestion that I should make financial reparation for the sins of my ancestors.

Reparation to whom? Should I make a pilgrimage to Jamaica and seek out the descendants of the slaves whom my ancestors wronged? But why the descendants of people who were oppressed by my ancestors 300 years ago rather than to people who are oppressed today? It’s that “sins of the fathers” fallacy all over again, taken a good couple of generations further than even Yahweh had in mind.

His parting shot (actually it was I who did the parting) was to suggest that Henry’s ill-gotten gains might have been used to purchase the English “estate”, a small fraction of which my family still owns. I told him that far from being an estate, it is a small working farm, struggling to make ends meet in a bad time for farming. I added that such wealth and land as the Dawkins family once owned was squandered in the nineteenth century by Colonel William Gregory Dawkins (not my direct ancestor, I’m happy to say) on futile lawsuits. Whatever I possess is hardly at all inherited from past centuries but earned by me in my own lifetime. I am happy to give to charity, and I do so in quite large quantities, but my choice of charity would not be influenced by whatever sins my seventeenth and eighteenth century ancestors committed. It was when he asked me exactly how many acres the modern small farm possesses that I told him to mind his own business and put the phone down on him for the second time.

I can’t help wondering at the quality of journalism which sees a scoop in attacking a man for what his five-greats grandfather did. Is there really nothing more current going on? Ah yes, of course, there is the little matter of our Ipsos MORI poll, published this week. Rather than grapple with that, far better to take no chances and distract readers with a story that’s a mere 300 years old.

Don’t buy the Telegraph on Sunday, but do look it up on the web and marvel at the depths to which a once-proud newspaper is willing to sink. That is unless – which I would like to think is quite probable – the Editor spikes the whole thing as a story that's three centuries past its Use By date.

Autor tekstu: Richard Dawkins
Tłumaczenie: Małgorzata Koraszewska
Wczoraj wieczorem zadzwonił do mnie reporter, który przedstawił się jako Adam Lusher z „Sunday Telegraph". Pod koniec tygodnia, w którym z powodzeniem wsadziłem kij w kilka mrowisk, byłem przygotowany na kolejne oczernianie lub jakiegoś rodzaju pozorowaną taktykę, ale w najdzikszych snach nie mógłbym wyobrazić sobie surrealistycznej formy, jaką to przyjmie. Oczywiście nie mogę powtórzyć słowo w słowo tego, co zostało powiedziane (moja marna pamięć do długich ciągów słów była w tym tygodniu szeroko rozreklamowana), i mogę mylić się co do kolejności, ale oto jak mniej więcej brzmiała ta rozmowa:

„Badaliśmy historię rodziny Dawkinsów i odkryliśmy, że pana przodkowie byli właścicielami niewolników na Jamajce w siedemnastym i osiemnastym wieku. Co ma pan w związku z tym do powiedzenia?"

Odpowiedziałem: „Prawdopodobnie to samo było z pana przodkami. Po prostu tak się złożyło, że wiemy, kim byli moi przodkowie i być może nie wiemy, kim byli pańscy".
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What is the proper place for religion in Britain's public life? - Will Hutton and Richard Dawkins - The Observer

Britain became engulfed in a culture war last week as secularists and believers clashed over the role of religion in public life. Even the Queen intervened to defend the Church of England's role. Richard Dawkins, whose survey about Christianity in the UK ignited the row, defends his position on secularism, faith and tolerance in conversation with Will Hutton of the Observer

Will Hutton and Richard Dawkins. Photographs: Felix Clay and Murdo MacLeod

Dear Richard

I write in defence of liberalism – a tradition as traduced by Baroness Warsi sounding off in the Vatican about a liberal elite undermining religion's necessary and important centrality in national life as it is by your high profile campaign to convert us all to atheism. There are many dimensions to liberalism – proportionality, due desert, mutual respect, belief in pluralism and tolerance of dissent – but we liberals would no more want to pillory those who have faith than we would want to endorse a philosophy that for all its appeal to rationality does not respect difference.

Thus we are neither the virus of which Warsi complains nor your foot soldiers, even while as a liberal I would defend to the last your expression of your atheist views. You play an important role in our national life in provoking a high octane debate. But I can't join your campaign. Liberalism is a doctrine of live and let live, and there has to be a very high threshold of harm before that liberal principle can be qualified.

Of course when religion is carried to absurd and dangerous degrees – the Tea Party movement in the US or Islamic fundamentalism – I am opposed, but for the same reasons I recoil from any zealot. George Osborne's irrational zealotry on debt and deficit reduction is a much more serious threat to our wellbeing than Archbishop Rowan Williams's Anglicanism. Indeed paradoxically the Church of England he leads is a great liberal redoubt – an institution that embodies proportionality, tolerance of dissent and respect for others along with considerable moral authority.

It is our ally, not our enemy, as we are discovering again in its battle against the devastating and thoughtless welfare cuts and the argument for a responsible capitalism. It is why so many English people support it even while their practice and understanding of Christianity is uncertain. Please don't confuse that hesitancy with their quiet respect – even love – of an institution they understand and feel they need.

Tolerate it and them.
Best, Will

Dear Will

We really agree. I am as committed to liberalism as you. That's why my foundation is campaigning for secularism, not atheism. There are many religious secularists, including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, plenty of clergy, JF Kennedy and indeed every religious American who upholds the constitution.

I personally – as opposed to my foundation – would be happy to persuade people towards atheism, but there is nothing illiberal about persuasion. What is illiberal is not persuasion but imposition of one's views. And the government, in its determination to "do God", imposes religion on us. Bishops in the House of Lords is just one of many examples.

Ministers justify such impositions by appeals to the 72% of the population who, according to the 2001 census, are Christian. But was this impressive figure inflated by people who, though they self-identify as Christian in the census, aren't really religious at all? No decent liberal could object to non-religious people choosing to call themselves Christian on the census form. It's their choice and, as a cultural Anglican, I can even sympathise. But we can object if the consequently inflated number of "Christians" is used to justify illiberal imposition of religiously inspired policies.

How could we discover whether the Christian tally is inflated? The 2011 census can't help because it baldly asked for religious affiliation, no supplementary questions. The UK branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science (not atheism, please note) commissioned Ipsos MORI to poll, in the week immediately after the census, those people who ticked the Christian box: the "Census Christians".

And what Ipsos MORI found was devastating. First, the number of Census Christians has dropped from 72% to about 54%. And a high proportion of the 54% are not religious in any sense that could legitimately be used to justify a government policy of "doing God". The survey is large, thorough and terminally damaging to a "do God" policy. Please read it on the web ( You'll be astonished at the low levels of religious knowledge, belief and practice among UK Christians, and at their very clear opposition to religion having special influence on public policy.
All good wishes, Richard

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