Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Why are some Christians just 'sick'?

Christians, usually the more fundamental kind, are oft criticised for gloating on the belief that 'unworthy people' will go to hell which is usually the fire, brimstone, gnashing of teeth and eternal torment kind. It almost seems to give them joy that people who didn't make the righteous grade, which they seem confident on reaching, will be horribly punished for eternity.

But this post isn't really about them, but about a more specific 'sick' Christian called Anthony Horvath who has a website and a series of stories about three people dying and going to Heaven. The three people are Richard Dawkins, Antony Flew, and Mother Teresa.

For starters only two of these people are actually dead. Richard Dawkins is currently still very much alive and it seems very inappropriate and dare I say unchristian to write about someone dying and what becomes of them, while they are still in this world.

But the inappropriateness of this pales beside the actual story, which the biologist Professor PZ Myers aptly summarises on his blog Pharyngula ;
"Richard Dawkins dies, goes to heaven, is judged, and sent to hell. It's short, only seven pages long, and five of them are spent in loving description of the disintegration of Dawkins. It's nothing but a horror story for Christians in which the bad guy meets a grisly end".
I  truly consider this to be sick and ghoulish. To quote Myers again;
"It's a wonderfully Christian fantasy, isn't it?"

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Creationism in New Schools

One of the most worrying things about the UK governments initiative to allow parents, teachers, charities and other groups to set up their own schools is just what the agenda of those setting up theses schools will be and how qualified the teachers will be.


There will be a standard curriculum to follow to qualify but it is what they teach in addition to that and the ethos of the running organisation that will have a great affect on the standard of education given.


Not surprising many of these potential schools are faith based all aiming to teach (indoctrinate) their kids in their chosen faith including some with what seems to be a creationist agenda, where they will be required to teach the Theory of Evolution in science but push literal Biblical creation as a better option to ‘just a theory’.



Things could easily go the way of some of the educational establishments in the us where 16% of US science teachers are creationists. 


 Even more worrying is that it says a "quarter of the teachers also reported spending at least some time teaching about creationism or intelligent design. Of these, 48% – about 12.5% of the total survey – said they taught it as a "valid, scientific alternative to Darwinian explanations for the origin of species".




It begs the question - What science qualifications do you need to teach kids in the US, if any? I know it is possible to buy degrees, doctorates, teaching qualifications etc., by mail order in the States and It also seems easy to set up non-accredited colleges and universities - mostly Bible types. When you look into the qualifications of most creationists they have degrees from such non-accredited sources.

So the worry remains - how strictly will these schools be regulated and the qualifications and ability of the teachers in these new schools be checked and monitored?

Monday, 21 February 2011

More on Astrology

Why would an intelligent person believe something that has been proved not to work when proper studies of it were carried out? I can think of other subjects where this applies but let’s just look at Astrology.

Being open minded, I suppose that the stars and planets could influence our lives because in certain ways they may actually do. All living things respond to seasonal changes which are to a large part driven by astronomical forces.

People obviously believe that astrology type of predictions help them make decisions that they where going to have to make anyway. So all they really are is a crutch, conformation that a decision is supported by something greater than the person actually making it.

But questions should be asked like;
How could anyone else be able to use astronomical influence to predict the environment that another will find themselves in?
What has a persons time of birth got to do with it?
How do the same planets influence people in completely different ways?

Open minded is good. I am open minded about many things. When it comes to subjects like this I am open minded if the research is open to different interpretations or is inconclusive.

In this case being open minded about something that has been the subject of serious scientific study and when the results are not open to interpretation or are inconclusive is an unsound position to take. The research is conclusive that Astrology does not work in any meaning full way.

Open minded is good - but don't be so open minded that your brains fall out!

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Which is the right thing to do?

Regret earnestly one’s action and inaction and ask sincerely for forgiveness from an invisible magic man we invented convincing ourselves his magic makes everything OK.

We could take responsibility for our own actions, sincerely apologise and make amends the best way we can and accept our own faults and failings.

Friday, 18 February 2011

This Blog is all natural and Fragrance-free!

Pay more for these meaningless words and phrases!

"Consumers often pay more for products advertised as "all-natural," "hypoallergenic," or with other words and phrases that sound good but can mean whatever the seller wants."

The list of undefined or meaningless words that should be considered sceptically and for context include, New, Now 28% better!, Hypoallergenic, Fragrance-free, All natural, Never tested on animals, Best-of-breed, Organic, Superfood, Nontoxic, and a favourite of mine not mentioned in the article, Chemical free.
I wonder how you can contact the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to tell them of your Nobel-winning discovery of the worldsfirst chemical-free product, and claim their million pound prize.

 And then we have the meaningless statistics quoted by cosmetics companies. So, 97% (or whatever) say that bog-brush mascara makes their lashes look longer and fuller - compared to what, no mascara? Given the point of mascara, its difficult to see that any product, short of acid, that you could actually apply with a brush to lashes would make them look shorter. 

If the comparison was without versus our product, who are the 3%? Those who couldn't open the product, those who poked themselves in the eye, or those who couldn't understand the question? Or perhaps this is the three per cent that admitted causing a collision when distracted by applying cosmetics?

If you can ever manage to track down the actual research or find the small print, you'll probably find it was such a small sample that it would be statistically insignificant anyway.  

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Climate Change Hits Home

I came across this short video about recent climate extremes in the US;

This is apparently how the majority of the American public get their science.

It does however make some interesting claims like rain fall up 4% in the last 50 years and the heaviest down pours up 20% in the last century which it correlates to increased moisture content due to increased temperatures.

It is part of a series of videos called ‘Climate Change Hits Home’.

Expect this series to get more numerous as more climate extremes occur in the good ‘ole US of A.

Would you Adam & Steve it!

It may be that I’m only writing this so I can use the headline but it looks like the British Government is planning to allow gay partnerships to have a religious element and be conducted in churches. There won’t be any requirement for churches to allow this but it seems a step in the right direction and these events will be more like a traditional wedding service.


This will be all to the good if this happens across the board and even better if the churches are not allowed to discriminate against same sex couples using their services. It will be one more chip away from religious bigotry and privilege. But it will be a very brave Muslim couple and cleric that manages to have a service to some Islamic standard. 


I realise that gay people are no different in wanting a religious or spiritual dimension to their lives but it would seem natural to me that they gravitate to religions that accept homosexuality or simply atheism rather than go through the hassle and prejudice of fighting homophobic faiths for the same rights as all – though I respect the courage of those that do and support them.


This does remind me of the gay character in the TV show Glee, Kurt, who is a non believer and cites religious prejudice as a reason for his atheism. Glee is one of my guilty pleasures. I watch it with my young daughter and as well as being a musical and a comedy it has some great moral stories and dilemmas.



Kurt is not the typical token gay character that seems to appear in TV shows for the sake of political correctness, nor is the school a perfect example accepting diversity. Kurt’s storylines are an important part of the whole and include examples of homophobia, stereotyping and loneliness due to the lack of partner choice. I can’t imagine this show being embraced as suitable viewing for young people by the more fundamental religions because of some of its themes. But it is produced by Fox.



All this makes me think how I would react if I was to find out that any of my own children were gay. I admit I feel rather smug about how far I have come from my Christian days where ‘Hate the sin, not the sinner’ was the mantra. That expression, one I used to accept as reasonable and justified in saying, I now view as horribly condescending and insulting.


If my children ‘came out’ to me, I would be very glad that my son, or daughter, could come and have such a frank discussion. If they felt sexually attracted to the same sex I would encourage them to develop a relationship before 'trying' anything. This is the advice I would give to kids straight or gay.


To try and alter their view to believing they are abnormal, which is a common suggestion from homophobes, would be an unacceptable and shameful thing to do. Relationships are not black and white or 'Adam and Eve'. I hope to encourage my children and will any grand children to aspire to be all they can be regardless of their sexual preferences.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Can You Trust the Bible?

So asks Jehovah's Witnesses in Special edition of their ‘Awake’ magazine which a friend and Witness lent me and is also available to view online.

Even though it is a JW publication the arguments they use seem standard for Christian groups. So even though most Christian sects see other ones as the wrong ones and their own as the one and only true version of the Christian faith and I might expect that most Christians will see Jehovah's Witnesses as some sort of fringe cult and be happy that people are criticising them specifically I believe that the position taken by Jehovah's Witnesses in this edition of Awake is fairly mainstream and that almost all Christians would agree with the contents.

So can you trust the Bible? The intention here is not to mock but look at this publication with a more critical and less faith biased opinion. This is a review from a non-religious thinker of just the first third of the magazine where an initial 5 reasons to trust the Bible are given.

I found it to be a very typical Watchtower publication – totally one sided and very heavy on spin and conclusions reached on weak reasoning. I really dislike the way it looks like it contains proper researched articles but the references are completely unsatisfactory – more on that later.

To Trust or Not to Trust” – It starts of quite well with “only a fool would go through life blindly accepting everything he hears”, early on but in the end this turns out to be spin as there is very little in the way of alternative views to think of blindly accepting other than those put forward.

After the introduction it gives 5 reasons to trust the bible, followed by other articles on related subjects. As it says “it is intended simply to present the compelling evidence that convinced millions that the Bible is worthy of their trust.” Of course it doesn’t mention any ‘compelling evidence that convinced millions that it is worthy of their trust’. The examples it gives as evidence for many of these 5 reasons are generally uncontroversial leading to the feeling that controversy does not exist.

A Unique Book” – lists facts about the Bible and its history to show its uniqueness.

Reason 1 – “Historical Soundness” 
I have a big problem here as the opening paragraph reads “NO ONE has ever successfully challenged the historical accuracy of the Bible”. Come on, this is at least arguable and not the certainty it claims to be. Adam & Eve, the flood, Living in a fish, the slaughter of the innocent by Herod etc, etc?

Reason 2 – “Candour and Honesty” 
This is a list of bible characters who related their Mistakes and shortcomings in the Bible to prove “the Bible gives ample evidence that it is the product of honest writers”. Where is the logic and reasoning here? EVERY story worth reading, truth and fiction, highlights the infallibility of the characters. Even Superman is a big softie who hates green rocks.

Reason 3 – “Internal Harmony” 
This section states that the “Bible was written over a span of some 1,600 years”, but has “A harmonious message”. I hate to be picky but it started with ‘an eye for an eye’ and ended with ‘turn the other cheek’. Where is the harmony in that? This section does however admit that some accounts in the gospels have “Reasonable differences” Which it puts down to different witnesses seeing the same thing but their evidence differing slightly. The very non controversial example it gives is Mark and John say Jesus was wearing purple and Matthew says scarlet on the day of his death. Why not explain something more controversial like Jesus’ linage back to Abraham or which son of David he was descended from, must we obey the OT, how did Judas die etc, etc.?

Reason 4 – “Scientific Accuracy”  
This lists a couple of examples that could be interpreted as meaning the world is round to prove the Bible is scientifically accurate. What about the Sun standing still, hares chewing the cud etc, etc, not forgetting the biggie the order of creation?

It is at this point we see my two biggest hates about Watchtower publications. The article states “One professor noted:” then continues with a quote to support the theme of the article. Who? A professor of what? What are their qualifications? In what context was it said? The really irks me. Why not state who said what? When it suits the person being quoted is referenced so why not all the time so details can be verified?

This leads me to the second thing I dislike – the foot notes providing other information. In this case it says “For more examples of the Bibles scientific accuracy, see…” and it is always another Watchtower publication. Never an independent book dealing with the same topic.

Reason 5 – “Fulfilled Prophecy” 
In the first paragraph it states matter of factly “Bible prophecy is always right”. How could it not be – if it isn’t you can just wait around until it is. The example given as proof of this is the fall of Babylon. With Isaiah saying “She will never be inhabited”. Be even the writer has to acknowledge “Although Babylon lingered on for a while after its conquest, Isaiah’s words eventually came true”.

The next article is “Who Authored the Bible?” – asks is it “simply a product of human wisdom, like any other book”? This section has the very absurd statement’ to me anyway, “God used an invisible force to influence the minds of human writers”. I can really see sceptics saying, ‘Of course, how obvious’.

It also oddly claims that God Jehovah didn’t need men to write the Bible but was divinely wise to do so because “one of the reasons for the Bible’s universal appeal is that its writers convincingly express the full range of human emotions”. Isn’t god capable of expressing the full range of human emotions only more so?

The article also ‘proves’ the Bible is the inspired word of God because the Bible says “All Scripture is inspired of God”. I wonder how much scrutiny that reasoning will stand?

That only gets us to page 11 of a 30 page mag so there is plenty more to go at – (I haven’t even fully considered what it says about the archaeological evidence yet!), but I think that is more than enough to be going on with.

Can you trust the Bible? I’d have to conclude - Only by faith and not reason.

Friday, 11 February 2011

North America Climate Extremes Monitoring

I have found a really interesting site; North America Climate Extremes Monitoring from NOAA Sattlitte and Information Service.

It allows extreme climate data to be mapped. As it suggests it is rather limited to the North American area but it is interesting to see the decrease in frost days;

Trend - Frost free days

 Increases in things such as summer days, 

Trend - Summer days

Growing season 

Trend - Growing season

 Intensity of rain/snow fall

Trend - Intensity of rainfall

And of course temperatures.

Trend - Temperatures greater than the 90th percentile

 The data only goes from 1950 up to 2006 but I suspect that the situation has not improve over the last 5 years. All indicators of an anthropologically warming world - no models required.

Anonymous prejudice

Anonymous contributor demonstrates thinly veiled prejudice. 

I’m surprised anyone reads this blog and honestly few people do. Its concept was just to record my ‘intellectual’ musings and mirror some of the contributions I’ve made to other sites. A journal would be just as good at this but there is the advantage that other contributors to those sites can engage with me more directly here and bypass any moderation and I will be able to link back to common themes.

I calculate that there have only been about three or four contributors to comments but it is impossible to know as comments can be anonymous, so all anonymous unsigned comments could be from one or several people.

However I believe that at least one anonymous commenter is responsible for most of these comments and they have perhaps unwittingly revealed a prejudice against non-believers by their comments even while they accuse me of racism because of a joke I posted.  I thought that this chap deserved their own post because of what their comments revealed about them and because they are one of my few ‘fans’.
Ann Coulter - Thou Shall not kill - except heathens.

Mr Anonymous (it could be Ms for all I know) made comments on a post about Ann Coulter anAmerican conservative Christian, social and political commentator, and columnist who frequently appears on television, radio, and as a speaker at public events.

Among many of her fundamentalist statements, she publicly said of Muslim countries like Iraq; "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Which I think is not only wrong but dangerous coming from a fairly influential public figure.

Mr Anonymous agreed but with some conditions it seems. To criticise her for that statement I must also criticise Christopher Hitchens' because he supported the invasion of Iraq, ‘kill it's leader and impose democracy’, and that the two positions could be equated or ‘judge people by the same standards’.

Nothing could be further from the truth in my opinion. While it is well known that Hitchins’ politics are American conservative in nature and he did support the invasion I’m pretty sure he did not publicly call for Sadam to be killed.

But to look at each case in point;

Scenario 1
Coulter is publically calling for the murder (unless she can justify that ‘thou shall not kill’ doesn’t apply to heathens), and the imposition of her Christian fundamental values on the rest of the populace.

Scenario 2
The invasion of Iraq was to remove a leader and leadership responsible for genocide (It was an Iraqi peoples court that imposed the death penalty), and bring about a secular type democracy.

But Mr Anonymous seems to wrongly believe that secularism equals atheism. Secularism means freedom of religion as much as freedom from religion. So in the second case there is no attempt at imposing belief.

So can the two really be equated? With explicitly implied murder and imposition to a faith present in the first and not in the second, I think not.

Christopher Hitchens - politically a conservative
 But none of this looks at my prejudice claim. The prejudice is because Mr Anonymous used Christopher Hitchin’s as an alter Coulter. Hitchens never called for the invasion of Iraq he just supported the political arguments made for the operation. But so did most other American conservatives and many liberals as well, who felt it was needed in the aftermath of 9/11. Probably much more than half of Americas 300 odd million people initially supported the invasion. This included many notable people, congress men, the press including editors and journalists, TV news and many, many more influential groups and individuals unsurprisingly including Ann Coulter herself.

So why single out Hitchens as the one who should be criticised for supporting the invasion of Iraq? What makes this writer and journalist different from most of the millions of others who thought the same? Did he order the troops in? The only thing that sets him apart from most of those other millions is that he is a notable atheist.

Mr Anonymous incorrectly associates atheism with secularism and puts Christopher Hitchens in the frame as someone who should be derided for it. Pure prejudice rising to the surface.

But hang on, if I’m saying Hitchens wasn’t responsible for calling for an invasion or sending in troops who ultimately is? If Coulter's call for a Christian invasion and a secular one can be equated who should be criticised along with her? Who said an invasion was necessary for protection? Who signed the order for a military operation and sent the troops in? It was George Bush and his administration.

Is Bush an atheist? No he is a Christian and as a fundamental one in his own way as much as Coulter is. Most if not all of the power in his administration, the Congress men and Senators all claim to be Christian.

So does Hitchens deserve to be criticised for his support of the invasion of Iraq? Since his politics conflict with mine, from my personal point of view I would criticise him on this point. But there is a queue, a very long queue in front of him, composed mostly of professed Christians with Ann Coulter near the top of that queue as well.

So any comments from Mr Anonymous might be interesting. Will he accept that murder and religious conversion can’t be equated with deposing and a secular democracy allowing freedom of religion? Will he accept that they only reason for singling out Christopher Hitchens from all the other supporters of invasion was because of his non-beliefs? Will he accept that if criticism is due there are a lot more prominent and deserving people than Hitchens and most of those are not Atheists? That some of those would have supported Ann Coulter as well?

Probably not.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Happy Darwin Day!

This Feb. 12 is the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection. It is not Darwin's birth but his big idea that is worth celebrating. His birthday is just a convenient date to choose for that.

It is a wonder how there is such a richness of species but Charles had the answer- and a very elegant answer it was. Darwin's big idea of idea of evolution by natural selection is arguably the most powerful idea ever. Like all the best ideas it is very simple. He recognised variation and what happens when variation continues over thousands and millions of years. Darwin delayed publication for several years because he realised how explosive the theory was to religious belief and was concerned about how it would be accepted.

The Theory of Natural Selection, gave biology its guiding principle, a governing law that helps the rest make sense. Moreover natural selection is not just about life on this planet as it could explain life on any planet. If life exists elsewhere in the universe some version of evolution by natural selection will almost certainly turn out to underlie its existence. How powerful a tool is that! Anyone interested in understanding the living world and how they fit into it should understand it. This is worth marking regardless of whatever Darwin's beliefs were.

Evolution is easy to disprove in so many ways, with DNA research for example. The discovery and importance of DNA would prove once and for all if different species were related. Fortunately it proved it beyond any serious doubt and is now used to determine how long ago species diverged from each other.

The British Research Councils spend millions on research inspired by Darwin each year, have a website to debate the importance of Darwin's legacy with the British public.

Interestingly few evolutionary biologists have read Darwin’s Origin of Species, simply because it is so old and out of date. There was so much he didn’t know then and he wasn’t entirely right on some points. A good substitute book on evolution and to see what science now knows is Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated by Steve Jones. It takes the Origin’s layout chapter by chapter and in most cases also contains Darwin’s original conclusions at the end of each but rewrites it for the modern reader and with one hundred and fifty years of hindsight that Darwin could have only dreamed about.

Another good read is Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body' by Neil Shubin.

I cant have a post celebrating the Theory of Natural Selection without mentioning the great alternative – Intelligent design. When people say there is no evidence for evolution or the fossil record shows no gradual process between species. They are wrong on both accounts.
ID is dependent on a supernatural force altering the laws of biology and physics – this is magic! 
Evolution is life changing - no ID required!

A year of living Biblically

A.J. Jacobs is the senior editor at Esquire magazine. A few years ago he decided to follow the rules of the Bible to the letter.

Jacobs says there are more than 700 rules in the Bible. He followed as many as possible, as literally as possible.

He wrote an entertaining book about it, which often shows the absurdity of religious dictates. It asks “How to justify the laws about stoning homosexuals? Or smashing idols? Or sacrificing oxen? And how do you follow those in modern-day Manhattan?”

And surprise, surprise, “I found that fundamentalists may claim to take the Bible literally, but they actually just pick and choose certain rules to follow. By taking fundamentalism extreme, I found that literalism is not the best way to interpret the Bible. “

It appears that the fundamentalists are only as fundamental as it suits them.

However if you really believe in a particular brand of religion or if you believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible you should follow all the rules as best as you can or risk being called a hypocrite.

How many of those claiming to believe in the Bible come close to doing what this man did? How many would even want to?

What is interesting is that although he didn’t do this out of faith, but as a project which he turned into a book so I'm sure it was for financial reasons, he admitted to having spiritual feelings while praying. He is still an agnostic but a more spiritual one!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Positions on Climate Change

I really can’t get my head around the thinking of those who deny that Anthropogenic warming is a real possibility to explain the warming that has occurred during the last century or so when at that time the increased burning of fossil fuels caused an increase of green house gasses in the atmosphere.

The theory that this should occur was established generations ago when in the 19th century Svante Arrhenius predicted a warming with increased Co2.

In the 1940s through developments in infrared spectroscopy for measuring long-wave radiation it was discovered that increasing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide resulted in more absorption of infrared radiation. It was also discovered that water vapour absorbed totally different types of radiation than carbon dioxide.

Gilbert Plass summarized these results in 1955. He concluded that adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere would intercept infrared radiation that is otherwise lost to space, warming the earth. Peer reviewed paper after paper, research after research has confirmed and supported this.

Good science has predicted decades ago, that the industrial release of Co2 into our atmosphere will lead to planet warming. Co2 has increased and the planet has warmed as predicted. The actual science experiments to show that CO2 blocks IR (heat) is often done in school science lessons. 

Is there any alternative and falsifiable science to un-predict this correlation?
As far as I can see only have three positions to choose from;

Position 1: They accept the opinion of all the worlds main scientific academies and supporting science and conclude that the warming of our planet is the warming that has been predicted to have come from the increasing Co2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere. The only real science that is left to do is to determine how hot it will get, how quickly and how it will affect the environment.

Position 2: They reject that the planet has warmed, which must be the case since for those who make unsubstantiated claims about the lack of good temperature data. But if this is their position then they need a falsifiable scientific theory to explain why the world has not warmed as predicted by a well established theory that states it should.

Position 3: They accept that the world has warmed but believe that it is not related to CO2 emissions and is just a coincidence. This is increasing in popularity as it is becoming harder and harder for them to deny this reality. If this is their position then they still have exactly the same problem as Position 2, ie no alternative theory to explain why the Co2 hasn't caused warming, but they also need an additional scientific theory to explain the warming trend during the last century. Usually they fill this in by claiming it is some Sun or solar related cycle with almost no supporting science for this and much against it. 

Anything else is just unsubstantiated smoke and mirrors.

Needless to say I and I believe any truly rational and critical person accepts Position 1.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

10 Reasons to be an Atheist

This is not intended to be reasons why believers should give up their faith – heaven help us from evangelical atheists! 

You do not need reasons not to believe, and even though nothing can completely disprove the existence of the supernatural, if someone’s non-belief is based on reasons it might be some of these or they may now consider that these reasons support their non-belief;

1: The weakness of the opposing arguments - the so-called proofs of God's existence.

Of course it is up to the individual to decide for themselves what constitutes convincing proof but most non-believers who have taken time to consider the proofs fall on the side of ‘lack of convincing evidence’ since clearly if you have found any of the arguments convincing you would not be an atheist.

The proofs of god commonly touted about do not rely on proof at all but faith in what you have been told by someone to be true, in other words ‘proof’ of god relies on unsubstantiated faith.

Should we expect a god to provide proof of its existence? Perhaps, because looking at Holy Scriptures gods are always popping up doing the impossible so their existence should be easily provable - but it isn't.

2: Common experience: If God existed, he should be easier to see or sense. People praying for advice on similar subjects should on the whole get similar answers.

If you look at issues that divides churches – women clergy, abortion, gay relationships/clergy. etc. You can find denominations that accept and reject all of these to varying degrees, from total intolerance to complete acceptance.

Perhaps I am wrong to assume that the leaders of these churches have asked their gods guidance on these matters, but they should have and if they did god should have told them basically the same thing. But what we have, assuming most religious ministers have studied their scriptures and prayed for guidence, is for example, that some will accept gays, even allowing them to preach, others will say they are going to hell for being gay etc. And all appear to believe they are following their faith correctly.

3: Refusal to explain something you cannot understand by something you understand even less.

Examples; “God is unknowable, god works in mysterious ways, no one knows the mind of god, gods plan is not revealed to us” etc. How many times have I heard these or similar sound bites? Yet the people saying them usually go on to tell everyone exactly what god wants and if we don’t understand something we are asked to accept it because god knows or god did it.

4: In all likelihood our consciousness does not survive death. People with even minor brain damage can change personalities and forget family and language. What's likely to happen when the whole brain dies?

Most believers think they will be much the same person, personality wise, in the after life, but somehow a mentality disabled person will be different. Unfortunately this idea occurred to me sometime ago when my best fried at the time had an accident and suffered a serious a serious brain injury. Even after his fullest recovery he was never the person I knew.

An after death ‘cure’ for all your mental flaws, and we all have them, would change who we are and seems all a bit of a theological fudge.

5: The mediocrity of mankind - that there is nothing special about humans or the Earth we are part of the biosphere, not above it or unique to it.

‘Speak for yourself!’ is usually a theist’s first reply to this. But this is a bit like saying I’m an individual, just like everyone else in the world! I feel it is arrogant to set myself above other life and every planet is unique. Man is not a special animal in any meaningful way.

I think is arrogant to believe otherwise as other animals are as equally evolved to their environments as we are. It is easy to point out how unique we are to other animals but it is just as easy to point out how unique they are to us.
Bertrand Russell said “Theology induces a dogmatic belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance, and by doing so generates a kind of impertinent insolence towards the universe.” I think he is right; it is insolent to think this universe was created with us in mind.

6: Lack of evidence for claims – none of the claims made by religions, (miracles, healing, effectiveness of prayer), stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Research has been done into all these including by religiously funded organisations, especially prayers for the sick. Although people with a strong positive outlook, whether gained through religious belief or not, often do a little better, nothing significant was found.

That really only leaves two choices;

1: The evidence proves that these things do not happen above the rate of probability or coincidence no matter how much people want to believe in them.

2: God refuses to reveal himself to those doing the research.

The first is most likely. No one would have any trouble accepting this kind of research if it was carried out on any other subject.
When it comes to the second, I have to ask myself; why would a god that is supposed to be loving let people suffer and die just to hide his presence from people who he wants to believe in him and worship him anyway?

An argument I have seen against this is that if everyone knew there was a god everyone would do the right thing out of fear, but lots of people really believe in gods and still go against them. A sin is only a sin if you believe there is a god to sin against. So it is perfectly reasonable for a god to give evidence of their existence and still leave us with free will.

7: Religion is Self-Contradictory.

Religions contradict themselves. Are there any beliefs in Christianity, Islam, Scientology, Hinduism etc. that are different even opposite from the other faiths?

All three mono-theistic religions evolved from the same source so they will have similarities and there is little to choose between their basic philosophies. However the religions they eventually replaced and others existing today are only similar in the broadest sense. The South American religions, Hinduism, Buddhism etc are very different and many of the similarities appear to be adopted from each other rather than having them arise separately as you would expect if driven by a common intelligence.

Even the different flavours of the same basic faith contradict each other including Christianity. Catholics believe in the trinity, priests as intermediaries for confession, the status of the virgin Mary etc. Protestants don’t. Add in all the other groups and sects and there is nothing but contradiction!

Because of this religious groups do not speak with one voice on any of many subjects, and even fight each other over the correct way to worship.

And this is a theist argument; My faith is different from all others (and the true one?), but this is also an argument for atheism. If most religions are wrong, and they must be, then why not them all?
8: Gods and Believers Behave Immorally.

There are plenty of examples of immoral behaviour amongst most gods and their faithful when that behaviour is compared to modern standards.

For example different interpretations of scripture are used to tell followers quite explicitly what is right and what is wrong - even when other interpretations and most of society disagree. They will swear on the Bible that they believe they are doing as commanded by their god – I have no reason to think them liars.

But all morality is relative. We do not accept things like Slavery, oppression of minorities, unequal rights, etc. They are wrong today even though many considered the acceptable in times past. All scripture I have come across, including the Bible, have dubious to down right immoral actions done by gods and their believers when compared to modern western standards.
Some religious people behave immorally, according to my moral standards and often those of other religious people as well, but they do it by believing they are doing what their god wants. So we have mistreatment of some sections of people and those who commit suicide attacks believing they will earn a place in heaven by doing it.

9: The Concept of God is Incoherent.

How is god described by different groups of believers and theistic individuals? Will a Muslim’s description be the same as a Hindu’s? What about a Mormon or pantheist?

It is true that all religions do not speak with a single voice on this. Jesus stated that he was the way the truth and the light, no one shall enter the kingdom of heaven but through him. Sects likes Mormons and Witnesses believe that they are the only ones on the right path. Other religions have similar sayings supporting there own doctrines as the true way. Again this just shows the contradictory and incoherent nature of gods and religions.

10: God corresponds so perfectly to our wishes that there is every reason to think he was invented to fulfil them, at least in fantasy; if accepted this would make religion an illusion or delusion.
Nobody wants death to be the End; religions usually claim to give us the chance of a betterworld and eternal life through theistic belief. This applies to many of our desires. We want a better life, not to get ill but recover from illness, be able to help others especially our family and friends, get good advice and consolation in times of despair. Belief in god usually offers all this.
 Belief in gods fulfils these needs. People who feel that life is unjust want to believe that the bad people will get what they deserve and the good get rewarded in a way that they never did through their life. Religion fills this need. Hell is a bad place and heaven is a wonderful place. Whatever religious people make of the afterlife it usually fits perfectly with their wishes.

There may of course be many other reasons - not least annoying Christians!

Thursday, 3 February 2011



I spotted another good example of seeing things for what they are rather than what they appear to be on Damian Carrington’s Environmental Blog yesterday.

He wrote an opinion piece asking if Australia might be pushed into action on climate following the latest extreme weather to hit the country - Cyclone Yasi.

The deniers were quickly out in force in the comments section not only chanting weather isn’t climate, or not every disaster is due to climate change, but also skilfully reading between the lines to determine that Carrington is an insensitive Jerk. Because reading between the lines he is saying that millions of Australians are going to die and it is all their fault because he told them that climate change was gonna kill ‘em all – ha ha … apparently anyway.

Actually as usual they missed the point and put up their straw men instead. Carrington didn’t even suggest that the cyclone was because of climate change. He was asking if Australia would be more likely to take climate change more seriously with this extreme climate event following after the severe floods and the long drought that has affected the country in the last year. Scientific American wonders much the same.

But setting all that aside, one comment drew my sceptical eye. It was from someone called ‘conflation’ and he posted;

“Here is the truth with its boots on..................
From a paper by Jeff Callaghan and Scott B. Power, Climate Dynamics, 2010
Title: Variability and decline in the number of severe tropical cyclones making land-fall over eastern Australia since the late nineteenth century.
Quote, "The linear trend in the number of severe TCs making land-fall over eastern Australia declined from about 0.45 TCs/year in the early 1870s to about 0.17 TCs/year in recent times—a 62% decline."
It is worth repeating, since records began in 1872 there has been a linear trend downwards in land-fall tropical cyclones over eastern Australia. A 62% decline in a warming world.”

So what’s the problem with that? A peer reviewed science paper shows that the trend in cyclones has actually decreased 62% even while the world is getting hotter. That’s pretty damming against AGW isn’t it?

Well no. Just in case you missed the big clue, the scientific paper in question was called ‘Variability and decline in the number of severe tropical cyclones making land-fall over eastern Australia since the late nineteenth century.’

So it has nothing to do with the number of cyclones or their intensity but just cyclones that made land fall in a specific part of Australia. So have the number of cyclones altered at all?

This is from the Australian government;

Graph showing the number of severe and non-severe tropical cyclones from 1970 - 2005.

"Trends in tropical cyclone activity in the Australian region (south of equator; 105 - 160°E) show that the total number of cyclones has decreased in recent decades. However, the number of stronger cyclones (minimum central pressure less than 970 hPa) has not declined.

The overall decrease may partly be due to an improved discrimination between tropical cyclones and sub-cyclone intensity tropical lows."

But even though there may be a slight decrease, does the science say there shouldn’t be? From a paper ‘Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment‘, published 6 years ago;

“We examined the number of tropical cyclones and cyclone days as well as tropical cyclone intensity over the past 35 years, in an environment of increasing sea surface temperature. A large increase was seen in the number and proportion of hurricanes reaching categories 4 and 5. The largest increase occurred in the North Pacific, Indian, and Southwest Pacific Oceans, and the smallest percentage increase occurred in the North Atlantic Ocean. These increases have taken place while the number of cyclones and cyclone days has decreased in all basins except the North Atlantic during the past decade.”
So the number of cyclone days IS expected to decrease while the intensity of the remaining cyclones is expected to increase – exactly what the current data seems to suggest.

But something else about conflation’s paper interested me. It seems a very strange thing to be researching – the number of cyclones making landfall in a certain part of a country – there may be good research reasons for doing this, expressed within the paper, but a subscription is required to view it all.

Nevertheless the first thing I noted is that the paper is available from Springer Link  in an online journal called ‘Climate Dynamics’ but I cannot find it published in any ‘quality’ peer reviewed publication. Not necessarily a bad thing but worth noting that the peer review the paper has been subjected to many not be up to the standard that it might have received I it was published in something like Nature.

However what conflation failed to include in his quotes from the papers Abstract is;
“This decline can be partially explained by a weakening of the Walker Circulation, and a natural shift towards a more El NiƱo-dominated era. The extent to which global warming might be also be partially responsible for the decline in land-falls—if it is at all—is unknown.”

There appears to be an explanation for decreased landfall and if that cause is related to climate change it remains undetermined. So it is very naughty of conflation to suggest it is actually evidence against climate change.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Scientists state the importance of addressing climate change

A few posts back I linked to an article that appeared when US President Obama was to give his annual State of the Union Address. It was called 'A Scientific State Of The Union'.

Yesterday a group of scientists and members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS),  released a letter to each member of the US Congress urging them carefully consider the importance of science in climate change policy. Almost a real Scientific State Of The Union address.

The NAS has an  international reputation for integrity and was created in 1863 by Lincoln to obtain objective expert advice on a range of complex scientific and technological issues.

This letter can be found here, but is copied below, additional emphasis mine;

To the Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:

As you begin your deliberations in the new 112th Congress, we urge you to take a fresh look at climate change. Climate change is not just an environmental threat but, as we describe below, also poses challenges to the U.S. economy, national security and public health.

Some view climate change as a futuristic abstraction. Others are unsure about the science, or uncertain about the policy responses. We want to assure you that the science is strong and that there is nothing abstract about the risks facing our Nation. Our coastal areas are now facing increasing dangers from rising sea levels and storm surges; the southwest and southeastare increasingly vulnerable to drought; other regions will need to prepare for massive flooding from the extreme storms of the sort being experienced with increasing frequency. These and other consequences of climate change all require that we plan and prepare. Our military recognizes that the consequences of climate change have direct security implications for the country that will only become more acute with time, and it has begun the sort of planning required across the board.

The health of Americans is also at risk. The U.S. Climate Impacts Report, commissioned by the George W. Bush administration, states: “Climate change poses unique challenges to human health. Unlike health threats caused by a particular toxin or disease pathogen, there are many ways that climate change can lead to potentially harmful health effects. There are direct health impacts from heat waves and severe storms, ailments caused or exacerbated by air pollution and airborne allergens, and many climate-sensitive infectious diseases.”

As with the fiscal deficit, the changing climate is the kind of daunting problem that we, as a nation, would like to wish away. However, as with our growing debt, the longer we wait to address climate change, the worse it gets. Heat-trapping carbon dioxide is building up in the atmosphere because burning coal, oil, and natural gas produces far more carbon dioxide than is absorbed by oceans and forests. No scientist disagrees with that. Our carbon debt increases each year, just as our national debt increases each year that spending exceeds revenue. And our carbon debt is even longer-lasting; carbon dioxide molecules can last hundreds of years in the atmosphere.

The Science of Climate Change
It is not our role as scientists to determine how to deal with problems like climate change. That is a policy matter and rightly must be left to our elected leaders in discussion with all Americans. But, as scientists, we have an obligation to evaluate, report, and explain the science behind climate change.

The debate about climate change has become increasingly ideological and partisan. But climate change is not the product of a belief system or ideology. Instead, it is based on scientific fact, and no amount of argument, coercion, or debate among talking heads in the media can alter the physics of climate change.

Political philosophy has a legitimate role in policy debates, but not in the underlying climate science. There are no Democratic or Republican carbon dioxide molecules; they are all invisible and they all trap heat.

The fruits of the scientific process are worthy of your trust. This was perhaps best summed up in recent testimony before Congress by Dr. Peter Gleick, co-founder and director of the Pacific Institute and member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. He testified that the scientific process “is inherently adversarial – scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That’s what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But no one who argues against the science of climate change has ever provided an alternative scientific theory that adequately satisfies the observable evidence or conforms to our understanding of physics, chemistry, and climate dynamics.

National Academy of Sciences
What we know today about human-induced climate change is the result of painstaking research and analysis, some of it going back more than a century. Major international scientific organizations in disciplines ranging from geophysics to geology, atmospheric sciences to biology, and physics to human health – as well as every one of the leading national scientific academies worldwide – have concluded that human activity is changing the climate. This is not a “belief.” Instead, it is an objective evaluation of the scientific evidence.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was created by Abraham Lincoln and chartered by Congress in 1863 for the express purpose of obtaining objective expert advice on a range of complex scientific and technological issues. Its international reputation for integrity is unparalleled. This spring, at the request of Congress, the NAS issued a series of comprehensive reports on climate change that were unambiguous.

The NAS stated, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities . . . and in many cases is already affecting a broad range of human and natural systems.” This conclusion comes as no surprise to the overwhelming majority of working climate scientists.

Climate Change Deniers
Climate change deniers cloak themselves in scientific language, selectively critiquing aspects of mainstream climate science. Sometimes they present alternative hypotheses as an explanation of a particular point, as if the body of evidence were a house of cards standing or falling on one detail; but the edifice of climate science instead rests on a concrete foundation. As an open letter from 255 NAS members noted in the May 2010 Science magazine, no research results have produced any evidence that challenges the overall scientific understanding of what is happening to our planet’s climate and why.

The assertions of climate deniers therefore should not be given scientific weight equal to the comprehensive, peer-reviewed research presented by the vast majority of climate scientists.

The determination of policy sits with you, the elected representatives of the people. But we urge you, as our elected representatives, to base your policy decisions on sound science, not sound bites. Congress needs to understand that scientists have concluded, based on a systematic review of all of the evidence, that climate change caused by human activities raises serious risks to our national and economic security and our health both here and around the world. It’s time for Congress to move on to the policy debate.

How Can We Move Forward?
Congress should, we believe, hold hearings to understand climate science and what it says about the likely costs and benefits of action and inaction. It should not hold hearings to attempt to intimidate scientists or to substitute ideological judgments for scientific ones. We urge our elected leaders to work together to focus the nation on what the science is telling us, particularly with respect to impacts now occurring around the country.

Already, there is far more carbon in the air than at any time in human history, with more being generated every day. Climate change is underway and the severity of the risks we face is compounded by delay.

We look to you, our representatives, to address the challenge of climate change, and lead the national response. We and our colleagues are prepared to assist you as you work to develop a rational and practical national policy to address this important issue.

Thank you for your attention.

Surely the US government cannot ignore this even if the deniers it mentions try even harder to confuse the issue in the minds of the public?