Monthly Archives: January 2015
As a tribute to those murdered today in the line of duty:
(Canberra Times via WEIT)
Live updates via NYT: http://news.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/01/07/paris-shooting-charlie-hebdo/?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=a-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0#statement-from-salman-rushdie-on-attack
“The Saudi Arabian embassy in London was asked to comment on the SSS award, but did not respond.”
This is an update to my earlier post concerning the Saudi blogger and Human Rights activist, Raif Badawi, who stands convicted of “setting up a website that undermines general security”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures”, and “going beyond the realm of obedience”. His sentence is to 1,000 lashes, 10 years in prison, a fine of 1 million riyal (currently £180,000), and a ten year ban on public activity after release. The lashings, according to unconfirmed reports, will be administered at a rate of 50 per week, starting on Friday January 9, in front of Aljefali Mosque in Jeddah, after prayers.
Saudi Arabia is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and has set up the International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna. Comment is superfluous.
Raif Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, has accepted the Scottish Secular Society’s first annual Aikenhead award on his behalf. Haidar, herself an activist and human rights defender, fled first to Lebanon before seeking asylum in Canada which she now lives with their three children, two girls and a son.
Ensaf Haidar writes: –
“Ladies and Gentlemen, my husband Raif Badawi was imprisoned just because he expressed liberal opinions. This is a crime in Saudi Arabia, punishable with ten years imprisonment and 1000 barbaric lashes of a whip.
What my husband Raif was subjected to is an inquisition, done in the name of the Saudi interpretation of religion.
Shamefully one should add, Saudi Arabia is spending hundreds of millions on the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, (KAICIID) in Austria – a public relations project to polish its image, which fails to hide the Kingdom’s persistent violations of human rights.
While promoting its so called ‘dialogue, openness and tolerance’ with the outside world, the Kingdom has been systematically silencing any expression or opinions or peaceful activism and sending those who dare to speak out behind bars.
My husband is one of them.
This glaring discrepancy has led the Austrian Green Party to demand its closure in Vienna, asking that the Kingdom begins by promoting these values first in its own land.
My husband has been awarded several prizes, including the Humanitarian Award of the Canadian Organization PEN and the Netizen Prize from Reporters Without Borders, and now you, the Scottish Secular Society, have awarded Raif the AIKENHEAD AWARD, 2015. I am both honoured and grateful for this distinction.
These awards send a clear message round the globe about the Saudi regime.
The continuation of Raif’s imprisonment is shameful, especially as the Kingdom claims to be part of the international coalition against the Islamic State (IS). Saudi Arabia is no different from the Islamic State when both lash and kill in the name of religion.
In the name of my husband Raif Badawi, I would like to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude to the Scottish Secular Society and to your Vice Chair, dear Ramin Forghani, for his continuous support.
It is this great international solidarity that reaffirms our belief in humanity.”
Scottish Secular Society press release on Raif Badawi:- http://www.scottishsecularsociety.com/scottish-secular-society-presenting-raif-badawi-with-annual-aikenhead-award/
This Arabic language article states that the lashing will take place in front of Aljefali mosque on Friday, 9th January in Jeddah but doesn’t mention a source for this information:- http://sabq.org/eKugde
More on Saudi Arabia silencing people on line:- http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/7-ways-saudi-arabia-silencing-people-online-2014-12-06
Scottish Government letter to Scottish Secular Society ice Chair Ramin Forghani pressing UK government to act:- https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=296114740599128&set=a.296115337265735.1073741831.100006018131928&type=1
The persistence of these arguments is amazing, until one remembers that they do not exist for their own sake, but as pretexts for biblical literalism.
What is also remarkable is the degree of distortion. Thus the argument from composition of the oceans was used by Joly in the late 19th Century, and led to an age of some 100,000,000 years; just as unacceptable to the Young Earth brigade as the currently recognised 4.5 billion.
And the argument from rock flow is a boomerang; look closely, as I do in an earlier post, and you can see faulting even in a simple pebble, while faulting on a larger scale is a major geological phenomenon.
Mainstream science holds the earth to be about 4.5 billion years old, with a surface sculpted by geologic processes such as plate tectonics and erosion and sediment deposition operating over many millions of years. In contrast, Young Earth (YE) creationism holds the earth to have been created only about 6,000 years ago, as indicated by a literal interpretation of Genesis. The worldwide Noahic Flood was responsible for laying down most of the earth’s sedimentary rock layers in the span about of one year.
Those who believe the earth to be very old can present observations such as 50,000 annual layers in lake sediments and in glacier ice cores, which appear to be incompatible with a young earth, as we described earlier in “ Some Simple Evidences for an Old Earth “.
Young Earth creationist organizations such as Answers in Genesis and the Institute for Creation Research counter by presenting various…
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Saudi blogger facing 1,000 lashes; Amnesty appeal to King Abdullah [Petition closed. More info as available]
Petition now closed for timing reasons. I will share more information about the case as available.
Join Amnesty’s letter writing campaign (form letter provided; individual even better) to King Abdulaziz regarding Raif Badawi. Write, publicise, tweet. Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes after starting a website for social and political debate. Reports suggest that administration of the punishment will begin this Friday, 9 January (after prayers) and continue at a rate of 50 lashings per Friday, for a further 19 Fridays if he survives so long, which is doubtful. Some reports (we are checking on the accuracy of these) say he is diabetic, which would make wound treatment more difficult, and it is unclear what quality medical attention he will be receiving.
King Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz would wish to be known as a wise and just ruler. He is widely credited for the 2002 Arab-Israeli peace initiative, and has carried out various internal reforms, including the creation of what is now known as the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue. The terms of this dialogue, however, are strictly limited. The use of social media in Saudi Arabia is closely monitored, with harassment and severe punishments for those who criticise the authorities, while last October Saudi Arabia’s top Muslim cleric last week described Twitter as “the source of all evil and devastation”. International protest at Badawi’s treatment will at worst show that such barbarism carries a cost, with implications for future decisions, and at best may strengthen the hands of those, even within the Saudi government itself, who might wish for reconsideration. Indeed, Amnesty campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience have in the past, on occasion, been surprisingly successful. A consortium of intellectuals with relevant connections has also been writing to influential Saudi princes (government in Saudi Arabia is verymuch a family affair) on Badawi’s behalf.
According to Wikipedia (see also here, here, here, and here for reports from the press, the BBC, Human Rights Watch and CNN respectively) Badawi was first detained on apostasy charges in 2008, but was released after a day of questioning (in Saudi Arabia, apostasy carries an automatic death sentence). The charges were revived, but not acted on, in 2012, the year in which he was arrested for allowing material criticising the authorities to appear on his website.In 2013, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for founding an Internet forum that “violates Islamic values and propagates liberal thought”, and this was increased in May 2014 to 10 years imprisonment and 1,000 lashes. Badawi’s lawyer Waleed Abulkhair has himself been jailed after setting up Monitor of Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, a human rights organization. Saudi Arabia is currently a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Badawi was barred from leaving Saudi Arabia in 2009; his wife and three
children now live in Canada, where they have obtained political asylum.He is the recipient of a number of awards, including the One Humanity Award from PEN Canada, the Nietzen Prize of Reporters Without Borders, and, very recently, the Thomas Aikenhead Award from the Scottish Secular Society (this last having been made after consultation with his wife, who advised that it would probably be more helpful than not). His official Facebook page* carries details of representations being made on his behalf, including one on 18 December 2014 expressing the concern of the Scottish government over his predicament, in response to a letter from my friend Ramin Forghani about the case. Other messages of support are noted on his Twitter page.*
Saudi Arabia is a major customer for the US and UK arms industries, and it was the Saudi army that, at the invitation of the Emir of Bahrain, entered Bahrain to suppress the popular uprising of 2011.
*Currently managed by his wife.
67,355 direct hits from 146 countries. An unknown additional number from being reblogged on other sites, and from other blogs which I have contributed. I am particularly proud of the links I have established with blogs aimed at explaining evolution to religious believers. In my view not the least of the intellectual crimes of the creationists is their arrogant claim that theirs is the One True Understanding of ancient texts, and unbelievers and thoughtful believers are natural allies in the never-ending struggle against obscurantism.I am also gratified by the way in which material from this blog has found its way into newspapers in both Scotland and England, and even, recently, into Forbes Magazine, because of the effect of this on public opinion.
The most popular post, overall, must have been Socrates, evolution, and the word “theory”, since this, in its 3 Quarks Daily version, reached the #4 spot on Reddit Philosophy. Next, probably, comes The natural, the supernatural, and the nature of science which appeared on ScientiaSalon, Massimo Pigliucci’s platform for professional-level discussion between philosophers and scientists (Massimo accepted this while totally disagreeing, as he made plain in his comments, with my conclusions). This in turn was based on two posts here on science and the supernatural; The natural, the supernatural, and the nature of science and Why we get it wrong and why it matters. These posts share a single theme, namely the limited value of purely verbal arguments. If we accept that all men are mortal and that Socrates is a man, then, just as the classical theory of syllogisms tells us, we must conclude that Socrates is mortal. But, as Bertrand Russell pointed out many years ago, we have not actually learnt anything from this process, because we would not have agreed that all men are mortal unless we were committed to accepting the mortality of Socrates in the first place. And those who claim that science of its very nature excludes the supernatural are laying themselves open to the only valid criticism to emerge from the twentieth century revival of creationism, namely that such a presumption begs the question regarding supernatural intervention. I follow Maarten Boudry in saying that on the contrary, science does not exclude the supernatural, but regularly examines it and finds it wanting.
On this site itself, the most visited post was Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm Responds to Criticism , in which the Zoo Farm compounded the intellectual offences pointed out by Alice Roberts, followed by Evolution is a lie says the school. Good curriculum, says England’s School Inspectorate (the school in question was following the ACE curriculum, described by my friend Jonny Scaramanga) and Why I do NOT “believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution”. The most significant in their effects, I hope, have been the recent series regarding creationist infiltration into Scottish schools, and current endeavours to persuade the Scottish Government to issue guidance against this.And one popular post providing a reference resource of ongoing value is PhD Thesis of Sylvia Baker, founder of “Christian” (i.e. Creationist) Schools Trust. This spells out precisely what creationist tactics are regarding the teaching of evolution, history, and morality, and the extent to which they are successful.
As mentioned, I have had visits from 146 different countries. Largest in terms of population, India and China (yes, I did get one hit from China narrowly defined, plus I think a few from Hong Kong), smallest, Faroes. I find the numbers encouraging, but even more encouraging is the quality of some of the followers I know I have attracted, and the breath of the blog’s reach. Most readers are from the UK (hardly surprising, since I write so much about what is happening there), with the US and Canada not very far behind, but what gladdens me even more than these are the hits from less obvious places, from all the countries of South America and South-east Asia, and from every country in the Middle East except Syria and Iran, but including Libya and the rest of North Africa, and even one lonely embattled reader from Afghanistan.
I will shortly be posting about my plans for the future, and in particular my hopes to move away from the current political preoccupations that now distract me more than I would wish from thinking about the underlying science and how to present it. But whether this will happen depends on events far beyond my control.
In conclusion, I would like to thank my readers, comment-makers whether they agree with me or not, the managers of the other sites on which I have posted blog pieces, and the many individuals, some named in individual pieces and some not, to whom I am intellectually indebted. To all of you, a happy and productive New Year.
This petition is still very much alive. If you as parent, teacher, or student have come across examples of separate creation or a young Earth being presented as scientifically credible (or, worse, as true) in Scottish public schools, please let me know (details in confidence) and if you are willing to go public please write to email@example.com citing petition PE01530, and saying that your submission is for publication. The Public Petitions Committee will be re-examining our petition on January 27, and accepting submissions until shortly before then (we suggest submitting by Monday January 12).
Calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance to bar the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.
That’s all! NB: No need for legislation; a simple Ministerial or departmental statement would suffice. No distinction between science and non-science classes, and no suggestion of preventing discussion of such ideas, as long as they are not presented as viable alternatives to known science.
Petition site and comments: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/gettinginvolved/petitions/creationismguidance
BBC recording of hearing; Spencer Fildes and Paul Braterman give evidence to Public Petitions Committee http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/scotland-30004391
Or SSS version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gi0RD3VAR1I
Forbes Magazine 30 Dec: http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnfarrell/2014/12/30/creationism-in-europe-you-bet/ Reviewing Creationism in Europe (Johns Hopkins Press) writes:
As scientist blogger Paul Braterman reports on events in Scotland (https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/ok-to-teach-creationism-in-context-says-scottish-government/), this [ntrodicing ID in schools]could prove to be a successful strategy.
Scotsman 27 Dec 2014: http://www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/letters/test-the-word-1-3644430  Richard Lucas of SOLAS advocates debates about the truth of creationism: ”Or are aggressive atheists afraid that evolution, an indispensable foundation of their belief system, might not stand up to open debate in our educational institutions?”
Herald [Glasgow] 26 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/inside-track-reporting-with-dinosaurs.115054081 A hostile commentary.
Herald 26 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/columnists/inside-track-reporting-with-dinosaurs.115054081Herald 1 December: Letters; Bob Downie reiterates support for keeping religion, science separated. Garry Otton repeats scope of petition.
Scotsman 26 Dec: http://www.scotsman.com/news/biology-teachers-need-more-guidance-1-3643988 To my surprise, the statement I gave them was printed intact as an article. I referred to the strongly supportive statement at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1530_DD_Society_of_Biology_10.11.14.pdf from the Society of Biology, the UK’s largest professional association of biologists, which states:
We encourage the Scottish Government to follow the strategy taken in other nations of the United Kingdom to provide clear guidance to schools and the teaching community stating explicitly that creationism and intelligent design are not considered to be scientific theories based on tested hypotheses, and therefore should not be taught in science lessons. Furthermore we urge the Scottish Government to provide teachers with appropriate training opportunities to develop the skills to answer controversial questions posed in science lessons in a clear and sensitive manner.
I mentioned that this had not been available as it should have been to the Committee and to the Government when considering the responses to our petition, and invited the Government to think again. I also drew attention to the need to provide appropriate training, especially to non-science teachers, as it is within a religious rather than a scientific context that problems are likely to arise.
Answers in Genesis 23 Dec: http://blogs.answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2014/12/23/scottish-government-rejects-creation-ban/
[T]eachers in Scotland still have the freedom to present the problems with evolution and millions of years as well as possibly present other alternatives, such as biblical creation, to their students. This is a victory for academic freedom in that country. Sadly, the secularists were trying to protect the teaching of their atheistic religion as the only worldview imposed on the current and future generations of kids.,
Ham’s good friend, Dr Nagy Iskander of South Lanarkshire’s education Committee, is, we know, very keen on teaching alternatives:
Herald 21 Dec: Teaching with dinsoaurs http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/teaching-with-dinosaurs.26133681
When it comes to Scotland’s culture wars, many would view this last week as a catastrophe for the Scottish Secular Society (SSS), and a success for the country’s religious fundamentalists
but facing it on the next page http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/call-for-debate-on-religious-privilege.26133800 has SNP Councillor Sandy Howat questioning, on behalf of many SNP members, creationist teaching, opt-out rather than opt-in Religious Observance, and the presence of unelected representatives of religion on Council Education Committees.
Herald 1 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/adopt-the-american-model-for-our-schools.25879090 Letters; Bob Downie reiterates support for keeping religion, science separated. Garry Otton repeats scope of petition.
Herald, 16 Dec: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/schools-creationism-ban-rejected-by-scottish-government.114739893 The Government response to our petition, http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/General%20Documents/PE1530_BB_Scottish_Government_15.12.14.pdf stated
…there are no plans to issue guidance to schools or education authorities to prevent the presentation of Creationism, Intelligent Design or similar doctrines by teachers or school visitors. The evidence available suggests that guidance on these matters is unnecessary. However, Education Scotland will continue to monitor, through the school inspection process and by other means, any instances where schools are not ensuring the teaching of science is based on well-established science and scientific principles.
Spencer Fildes comments
The fear is that creationists will now use the government’s position to further validate the cause of creationism, young earth doctrines and the pseudo-science of intelligent design.
as happened very promptly; see notes on Dec 23, above, and I comment:
This [the Government’s] language blurs the crucial distinction, built into the wording of our own petition, between learning about creationist worldviews, and being taught that such worldviews are tenable. The SSS fear this will bring Scottish education into disrepute.
I note that the Government response was over the signature of a civil servant,not a Minister, and wonder if they are already aware that they may be asked to thinkagain. Of course, the Government’s view is not binding on the Committee, which can make, although it cannot enforce, its own recommendations.
Herald 28 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/respect-of-parents-rights-in-respect-of-education.25989631 Letter, Hugh McLoughlin, says we don’t explain what we mean by creationism, invokes European Convention on Human Rights
Herald 27 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/should-creationism-and-evolution-be-taught-side-by-side-in-the-school-classroom.25979445 letters. Among other things, corrects Rev David Fraser, states “The EIS position is that teachers can be trusted to conduct themselves professionally without the need for legislation.”
Herald 26 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/secularists-only-want-to-keep-religious-teaching-in-churches.25966308 Letter attacking Dvd Fraser’s defence of creationist teaching.
Herald 25 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/secularists-need-science-lessons.25959745 Rev David Fraser
I think most of us have had enough of the aggressive and perverse campaign against free speech by the Scottish Secular Society … Our leaders need follow the robust example of the EIS and defend the rights of the majority for the expression of their faith across the spectrum of school subjects.
Herald 24 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/teachers-reject-creationism-ban.25940642 Unnamed EIS spokesperson(s) condemn our petition. Herald reporter once again confuses the teaching of separate creation (the subject of our petition) with the idea of God as Creator, discussion of which we explicitly defend.
Herald 23 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/scotlands-culture-war-secularists-and-church-head-to-head.25941169 Scotland’s culture war: secularists and church head-to-head. A wide-ranging review by Judith Duffy.
Herald 22 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/a-mccarthyite-campaign.25937147 : In response to Spencer’s remarks to the Herald on November 21, the Reverend David Robertson accuses us of a McCarthyite campaign and anti-religious paranoia
21 Nov, The Centre for Intelligent Design warns those on its mailing list: Government to impose Scientism on our children http://www.c4id.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=262:government-to-impose-scientism-on-our-children&catid=52:frontpage&Itemid=1 So now you know. The Centre regards evolution science and the study of the age of the Earth as forms of Scientism, whatever that may be.
Herald, 21 Nov, reports on submission made to the Petitions Committee by Ken Cunningham is Secretary of School Leaders Scotland: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/education/banning-creationism-lessons-is-dangerous-warn-headteachers.25925821 My comment:
Not Head Teachers; one ex-Head [in consultation, he later claimed, with the Association’s presidential team, whoever they may be] speaking for all his members with no further apparent mandate from his Association’s membership. And Cunningham and Noble [Director of the Centre for Intelligent Design, whose plans to promulgate creationism are a major matter of concern to us] are not as reported both members of the Free Church of Scotland; they are Elders (Cunningham also Secretary) of the same small independent Church, Cartsbridge in Busby, with a total membership of around 250; a much closer association. As usual this reporter, Andrew Denholm, misdescribes what we plainly said we meant by creationism.
See also commentary “Creationist Manoeuvres in the Dark” http://secularspen.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/creationist-manoeuvres-in-the-dark/ by Spencer Fildes, who has done more than any one to unmask the concealed connections.
Christian News 17 Nov objects to banning the teaching of biblical creationism as fact: http://christiannews.net/2014/11/17/secular-group-seeks-to-ban-biblical-creation-from-public-schools-in-scotland/ (I continue to be amazed at the arrogance of those, like the authors of this article, who claim a monopoly of Christianity on the basis of their boneheadedly ignorant interpretation of its foundational documents.)
Times Educational Supplement Scotland 14 Nov: http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6450346 Schools are being infiltrated by cults, say secularists
12 Nov NCSE ([US] National Centre for Science Education] News Update from Scotland http://ncse.com/news/2014/11/update-from-scotland-0015982
‘Religious extremists infiltrating schools’ This otherwise excellent article includes the statement “Creationism is the belief that the universe and living beings originate from acts of divine creation.” Not in this context. Our petition specifically refers to separate creationism is opposed to the established science of evolution. Although our opponents pretend otherwise, it has nothing to do with religious or philosophical positions regarding creation as a whole.
Aberdeen Evening Express, [Glasgow] Evening Times 11 Nov: MSPs warned on schools creationism
STV News 11 Nov http://m.stv.tv/news/scotland/299236-scottish-secular-societys-petition-discusses-creationism-teaching/ Teaching of creationism in schools ‘cannot be ignored’, MSPs told
Good Morning Scotland 11 Nov https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kyo89F5CGTQ Spencer Fildes interviewed
Press and Journal 9 Nov https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/politics/holyrood/395263/row-over-religious-education-in-schools/ echoing Scotsman of 7 Nov
Scotsman 7 Nov: http://www.scotsman.com/news/education/bid-to-ban-creationism-is-militant-atheism-1-3597863 Campaigners bidding to ban schools from teaching creationism in science lessons are “militant atheists” who want to impose their own views on youngsters and discourage questioning, a church leader has claimed. Reverend David Robertson…
(Interestingly, when preaching to Ken Cunningham, mentioned above, and Alastair Noble at Cartsbridge Evangelical Church, the Reverend shows full awareness that many of us are religious believers. Maybe he takes the Ninth Commandment more seriously when he is actually in church.)
Herald 4 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/topic-of-the-week-intelligent-design.25812362 A selection of letters
Herald 2 Nov: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/anger-over-move-to-teach-intelligent-design-in-schools.25756300 Introduces the topic
 Most recent first. Links made explicit, for ease of reference and copying. We would welcome notification of any coverage we have missed. NB this post refers only to coverage directly relevant to our petition PE01530