26 August 2006

Creationism and Evolution in Leicester again

Ken Ham of "Answers in Genesis" is in Leicester again on 1st September, at the Students Union building on Leicester University campus. While the creationists should be allowed free speech, they could easily hire a church hall or leisure centre (as they did last year). By allowing such an anti-science event on the University site it seems to me the LUSU is undermining the University's educational and scientific reputation. At the same time it allows the creationists and IDers to use the University's name to add weight to their claims to be scientific.

Some members of Leicester Secular Society, I should add, don't agree with me on this, but say we are committed to freedom of religious worship and to free speech, so long as we get to put the other side of the story. And we are getting to put the other side in a constructive way, as in conjunction with Leicester University, we will be welcoming the geneticist Professor Steve Jones, on 7th November. The title of his talk will be the same as that he presented to the Royal Society earlier this year: Why Creationism is Wrong and Evolution is Right.

The need for continued vigilance against the encroachment of creationist ignorance is emphasised by an Opinionpanel Research survey conducted in July this year which found that more than 30% of UK university students believe in creationism or intelligent design. This is the starting point of an article by A.C.Grayling in the Guardian: Reason Lost, which has atracted extensive comments.

I quote a comment (though I know some of our members will also disgree with this) by Laurence Boyce: "... I think that the problem lies firmly with 'faith,' and with our beloved religious leaders who habitually pollute our rational discourse with their unjustifiable demand that we should 'respect' their ridiculous, contradictory, and unfalsifiable belief systems. The creationists are right! The entire basis of Christian theology - the fall and the redemption - simply gets blown away by Darwinism. Viewed in this light, nice mainstream 'moderate' religion is merely the blood supply feeding the cancer of so-called religious extremism.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world creationists continue their little encroachments on the road to a new dark age:

The NY Times reports that evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant.

Christians in Kenya are pressurising the country’s national museum to hide their world famous collection of hominid bones that provide evidence of human evolution. Bishop Adoyo said all Kenya’s churches would join the campaign to force the museum to change its focus when it re-opens after refurbishment next year.

Finally, the Pope has retired his official astronomer, Father George Coyne, after a series of public clashes with other cardinals over the theory of evolution. The NSS points out that this comes only weeks before the Vatican hosts a seminar to examine the impact of Darwin’s theory on the Church’s teaching of Creation.

On the positive side: It is reported that geneticists have identified the brain genes that gave us chumps a head start on the chimps.

19 August 2006

LSS Website Redesigned

The absence of activity on this blog is partly due to the traditional inactivity at this time of the year, but mainly because I've been busy with redesigning the Leicester Secular Society website. This was partly prompted by a half-day course I was persuaded to attend about accessibility of websites to disabled users, run by something called the ICT Hub. This led me to think about using "cascading style sheets" (CSS), well one style sheet anyway, and to avoid using the html "tables" facility to structure the layout. The result is a more consistent appearance of the pages, and I hope a better colour scheme that is easier on the eyes, and more readable.

The site is now, apart from the section on Islam which needs updating, completely in the new style. The main changes that will be noticed are that there is no longer a single "sitemap", instead access to the pages is via the green buttons on the left of the home page which lead to partial sitemaps covering narrower subject areas, principally Secularism, History, Science and Religion.

I've taken the opportunity to add some new content. In particular in the biographical section material from Sydney Gimson's Random Recollections of Leicester Secular Society written in 1932 have been added to the pages on Gimson, Morris, Holyoake, Foote, and others (and there is much more to be added in due course). His memoir helps to update the history of the Society for the prewar years (he died in 1938). We are lacking in records for the postwar period, when the Society seems to have suffered a decline, though this may only be apparent due to lack of detail. If anyone has knowledge or recollections of that period I would be glad of information.

Another item to draw attention to are the plans for regeneration of the Hall (accessed at the bottom of the page on development plans). Keith Baker, who is on the "Vision" subcommittee, has been able to provide images of the floor plans of the building, showing the renovations proposed, such as a lift, a glassing over of the atrium and a conversion of the balcony in the ballroom to new rooms for use of the Society (if I've read the plans aright).

Don't forget our Open Day on the 10th of September.