26 February 2006

Free Speech & Jerry Springer The Opera

The show Jerry Springer: The Opera starts at De Montfort Hall 27 February until 4 March. Members of Leicester Secular Society will be displaying a banner outside the gates of Victoria Park in support of the producers of the show who have been under attack from extreme christian sects who regard it as blasphemous or insulting rather than satirical.

photo by D. Ray

This is just one of a series of attacks on freedom of speech. Other cases are the protests, and indeed riots, ostensibly against the Mohammed Cartoons, which we discussed here earlier this month, and the Sikh protest against the play Bezhti in Birmingham last year.

It seems that it is people who hold to fragile beliefs that cannot withstand the heat of open discussion who protest the loudest. Their emotional reaction derives from their fear that unbiased examination of the origins of their beliefs will undermine their faith.

On the other hand, rational thinkers don't mind people criticising or ridiculing their beliefs. If someone contradicts what we believe to be true, we just ask: well show us the evidence then. What annoys us the most is misrepresentation or denial of established scientific truth, as for example in the case of young-Earth creationists denying evolution, or propagandists denying the historical truth of the Nazi gas-chambers.

Should we not therefore be more forceful in saying what we really think, even if it offends those who are over-sensitive? Too many people are starting to censor themselves out of a mistaken desire not to offend or out of fear of stirring up trouble. Let's have it all out in the open and not be afraid of the truth. We should be free to condemn or ridicule people who spread false teachings, religious nonsense or inhumane dogma.

14 February 2006

Darwin and the Bishops

The following is the text of the 'First Person' column I wrote for the Leicester Mercury last Saturday, the response by the Bishop of Leicester on Tuesday, and the response by Ibrahim Mogra on Thursday. Apparently there is more to follow this weekend. The texts have been copied from the Leicester Mercury site:


See under News/First Person. It is possible to add comments there if you wish.


10:30 - 11 February 2006 As scientists celebrate Darwin Day tomorrow, George Jelliss wonders where the Church of England stands

Charles Darwin was born on February 12, 1809. His birth is increasingly celebrated by biologists and many others influenced by his ideas, through holding lectures and festivals on and around Darwin Day. These will lead up to his 200th anniversary in 2009, which will also mark 150 years since the publication of Origin of Species.

When Darwin died in 1882, the country thought so highly of him that he was buried in Westminster Abbey, alongside other great creative thinkers. The Church of England at that time, after 20 years of controversy, had accepted the undoubted importance of his ideas.

All these years on, the essential correctness of Darwin has been ever more thoroughly established by evidence from all manner of sciences.
The millions of years needed for evolution have been confirmed by the work of geologists and astronomers on the great age of the Earth and the even greater age of the universe.
The detailed operations of heredity have been shown by the science of molecular genetics, developed since the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA.

So why are Church of England bishops so reluctant to state their acceptance of evolution?
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in a lecture at Christ Church, Cambridge, where Darwin studied, praised him for his dogged pursuit of truth, yet did not, in direct words, endorse the truth Darwin found.
No Church of England websites seem to carry a full-hearted endorsement of evolution.

In contrast, many other Christian churches and their websites are outspoken, even hysterical, in their advocation of Young-Earth Creationism, which denies the truth of Darwin's findings, and says, against all scientific knowledge, that the Earth, and indeed the whole Universe, was created only a few thousand years ago.

Did you know that the UK and Europe head-quarters of the US-based Answers in Genesis organisation is in Leicester?
Nearby, in Rugby, is the headquarters of the Biblical Creation Society. Both groups backed big conferences in Leicester in 2002 and 2005, organised by evangelical churches.

So it is especially important in Leicester, with its two universities dedicated to science, that the established Church speak out loud and clear.
Are Bishops afraid to upset many of their members who are still stuck in pre-Darwinian ignorance? Surely they should have the intellectual courage to show their followers how their religious beliefs can be reconciled with scientific truth. This is especially important if they continue to wish to support, and indeed to control, a large part of child education in this country.



10:30 - 14 February 2006 The Bishop of Leicester responds to the challenge issued here on Saturday by George Jelliss

George Jelliss issued a challenge in this column on Saturday ("Bishops should speak up about Darwin's truth") which I am delighted to take up. Darwin opened our eyes to the fact that the natural world is in constant change and development. Because of him, we no longer see the world as one in which species are stable, immune from change or created ready-made. And this, I believe, is entirely compatible with the Bible, which describes in the Book of Genesis a process of creation which is gradual and developmental, proceeding by a sequence of events. We seriously misunderstand this book if we believe that it is meant to be a literal scientific account of how the world was made.

It is true that some Christians (as George Jelliss points out) appear to find Darwin's theory of evolution as contradicting scripture, as if the theory of evolution undermines the idea that human beings are made in the image of God.
This saddens me. Charles Darwin's theories do not imply that humans are simply a sophisticated version of an ape. Homo sapiens came about as a result of a dramatic leap in the evolutionary process producing beings of immensely greater intelligence and self-consciousness than our evolutionary ancestors. But that does not imply a break in the evolutionary process.
The wonder of it for me is that it has precisely come about by means of God's creativity through evolution.

George Jelliss seems to imply that science and faith are in opposition. The scientific method develops by producing explanations of the physical world based on the best available evidence to date.
Scientists offer us maps which have always been open to revision when the territory is later surveyed more closely than before. In that sense, scientific "facts" are always provisional. That is not so different from a faith perspective of the world.

The University of Leicester's genetics department is headed by someone who is a member of our Cathedral congregation.
There are countless examples of leading scientific thinkers whose faith has been deepened and enriched by their scientific understanding.

Christians believe our faith is not just a matter of private opinion, but a public truth. It offers an account of the most important realities in our lives - the realities of truth, beauty and goodness.
We believe we can explore these things best by entering a relationship with God (who for Christians is revealed in the life and death of Jesus Christ). Yet this public truth does not contradict what the scientists tell us about the nature of the universe.
For Christians, the more we understand and penetrate the mysteries of the created world, the more we see evidence of the hand of a creator God. That is why we should celebrate Darwin's life and all the Origin of the Species has taught us.

On Thursday: An imam responds to Mr Jelliss



10:30 - 16 February 2006 Ibrahim Mogra responds to the views on Creationism expressed in this column by secularist George Jelliss

My faith in Islam is continually strengthened by every scientific discovery. This might come as a surprise to many, but the association between the Koran - revealed almost 1,400 years ago - and science is one of harmony and not of conflict. The concepts and ideas put forward by the Koran in relation to the universe, when no scientific equipment was available, is truly amazing.

Unfortunately, verses relating to scientific data are sometimes badly translated and interpreted, so that a scientist's criticisms seem justified when the Book does not actually deserve it at all. There are also erroneous commentaries that 100 years ago would not have raised an eyebrow, but would offend contemporary scientists. Modern interpretations must be rooted in the classical understandings of the various passages, but must also take into account new scientific discoveries and be critical of both. Along with thorough linguistic knowledge, a commentator must also be equipped with a highly diversified scientific knowledge.

Information about the Creation is scattered in the Koran and so there is no continuous narrative. The creation of the universe is frequently mentioned as having taken place in six "days". That is a very narrow interpretation of the Arabic words used in the creation verses. The Koran does not give a specific order of creation. When it mentions six "days", it does not mean 24-hour days, for this could only have happened after the creation of the sun and the orbiting of the earth. The word is to be understood as a "period", a "long length of time". Chapter 32, verses 4-5, says "... in a period of time whereof the measure is a thousand years of your reckoning". Chapter 70, verse 4, says "... in a period of time whereof the measure is 50,000 years". If scientific discoveries show that the universe is millions of years old, then Muslims should see that to be precisely what the Koran wants us to understand about the time factor in the Creation debate until something different is discovered.

Although I have said Muslims must embrace scientific findings, these findings will still be subject to scrutiny under the light of the teachings of the Koran. That is exactly why Darwin's theory of Evolution, suggesting the human being started as something very different, is not acceptable.

The Koran endorses that everything was created from water, and that the human being is created in the best form - from Adam - walking upright and conversing intelligently, always learning to utilise God's bounties to better their lives.

* Ibrahim Mogra is an associate imam in Leicester and is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Saturday: God-fearing scientists and Creationism

10 February 2006

Maybe I was wrong

There's a corner shop two doors away from where I live. It's run by a couple who I would count as friends.

I have defended them against racist comments made in the shop when I was present. I see them as English as they aren't immigrants (and being Welsh I count myself as an immigrant).

They sell alcohol, and newspapers that carry the sort of images of women that most Muslims reject. Both wear what is being termed 'western' dress (in fact she tends to expose her ample cleavage to a slightly distracting extent).

I assumed that, if anything, they were Hindu.

I was wrong.

I raised the issue of the cartoons when I went in this evening (I was taking a very concilatory tone (she wasn't there) so I accepted that 'that one' cartoon was probably offensive) assuming that we'd at least agree over the issue of this whole thing being blown out of all proportion.

Again I was wrong.

Turns out they're Muslim. Given the above, how was I supposed to know?

Turns out that depicting Mohammed is indeed an insult, regardless of whether or not he was depicted as wearing an Indian-style turban with a bomb on it.

Turns out that homosexuals are evil and unnnatural. Turns out that 'all religions' (apparently) condemn homosexuality. Turns out that evolution doesn't apply to humans. Turns out that we're not just another species of animal.

I am now left depressed, despondent, and feeling pretty hopeless.

I cannot count as a friend someone who condemns other friends of mine as being evil and unnatural.

One of the reasons my ex and I ended up splitting up is because I could no longer take this sort of bigotry from her father and she wouldn't stand up to him on this, or at least persuade him to keep quiet whilst I was staying there (and sod knows that was often enough) - but that's just my side of the story.

Anyone who thinks that humans are anything other than an explainable result of a verifiable theory (be it evolution or anything else, but we've not come up with anything better yet) is deluded and irrational. But hey, at least on this one we're arguing over something that is verifiable, and I may be wrong for thinking that, and I'm probably ok unless I'm an atheist (I had to add that, yes, I'm an atheist, but I was effectively brought up as a child of Christian parents) but given enough time we can prove that one way or the other.

Equality of all human rights is a philosophy. It is the only philosophy that mandates us to act against discrimination regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, nationality, ethnicity, and yes, even religion. It is the only hope we have of not returning to our tribal origins and spending all our time trying to wipe each other out.

I was under the impression that so-called 'moderates', or those we would take to be 'moderates' by virtue of my initial description, would at least agree with this.

Again I was wrong.

Dawkins was right. Religion IS the root of all evil. For due to religion there are now two people I can no longer count as friends, and for that I am truly sad, depressed, and yes, angry.

Elsewhere I have written articles and comments in defence of both Mohammed and Jesus (if he existed) as being great leaders, whether or not I agree with their views, methods, lifestyles and legacies.

Saying that, the same has been said of Hitler by many who could never be accused of ever being even remotely sympathetic to the Nazi regime.

I have also defended Mohammed as writing the Qu'ran as a document to promote peace and equality, regardless of the substantial evidence and opinion to the contrary. I have never said the same about Jesus and the Bible, at least after I'd read it.

I now truly appreciate the meaning of freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech means I can say from the heart what I really feel about those who condemn other people as 'evil'. People I who know personally to be liberal, egalitarian and peaceful. People who just want to live happy and fulfilled lives.

This includes Mohammed.

Right now I think he's a complete f***ing c***.

02 February 2006

The Mohammed Cartoons

The following links have been provided by two of our members. The first shows the 12 cartoons published in the Danish magazine which have been used as an excuse by various Muslim groups to stir up trouble.


Note the link at the end of the article to earlier historical examples of depictions of the prophet, some from Islamic sources. "In response to the notion that the West (or Islam) has ever followed the prohibition against depicting Mohammed, Zombie has created the Mohammed Image Archive, which contains dozens of Mohammed images from throughout history."

This link, to a Saudi blogger, includes some of the same images in a spoof report to the Saudi ruling family:


Muslims should lighten up a bit, and learn not be so easily offended.

A Bit of Old News

I've been offline since 14th January due to problems with my computer, now resolved.

While I was offline one of the most annoying articles I read was one in The Independent (17th January) by Dominic Lawson "An unbeliever's defence of religious faith".

In this he cited Michael Burleigh The Third Reich: a new history in which Hitler, according to Martin Bormann, proposed "to solve the religious problem" by maintaining a "senile officiant" as Pope, supported only by poor old women. This is supposed to show that Hitler's declarations of christian views was just part of his climb to power. In the second part of his article he cites A.J.Ayer as a humanist who maintained that moral judgments were devoid of meaning, with the implication that these 'Logical Positivist' views are those also of Richard Dawkins.

I wrote to the editor of The Independent to the effect that Lawson (whose children were brought up as catholics - and who advocates following "the accumulated wisdom of the church") is an "unbeliever" in the same sense that he claims Hitler was a christian. And secondly that to criticise Dawkins by quoting Ayer is like criticising Darwin by quoting Lamarck - science and philosophy have moved on a few notches in the intervening years, while it seems Lawson has been asleep. The letter was not published.