The Bible is not a science book

There was a wonderful moment in this evening’s Christianity: A History, when Colin Blakemore asked a Vatican astronomer why he doesn’t think the Earth is only 6000 years old. Said astronomer replied that the Bible doesn’t have to be taken completely literally, because it’s not a science book. How do we know it’s not a science book? Because science books need to be updated, while the Bible doesn’t.

Srsly. This actually happened. I have no idea what he meant, but it only applied to the old testament – the new testament is obviously completely true, and we know so because it says so in the Bible.

The Vatican dude was a bit rubbish, to be honest – a Creation Museum ‘astrophysicist’ was better, as he was intellectually honest enough to admit that when evidence defies scripture, he chooses scripture. It’s ridiculous, but at least it’s not couched in desperate justifications.

It was a decent documentary, actually. These shows often go a bit Robert Winston, and end up all wishy-washy we wouldn’t-want-to-offend-religious-people, and trying to find some line between ‘the two extremes’. Not this time: Colin Blakemore ended by expressing his opinion that science will eventually explain the religious impulse, at which point Christianity, along with all religions, will be dead in the water. I’m not entirely sure about that, but it was good to see someone expressing a proper opinion rather than trying to ‘start a debate’ by lobbing potshots from safe ground.

Christian comebacks to the Atheist Bus Campaign

The Atheist Bus Campaign adverts are coming down in the next few days, after an amazingly successful month. They’ve been a remarkable talking-point1, similar adverts are going up all around the world, and they annoyed, then embarrassed, Christian Voice. All great results, but they’re also apparently the vanguard for a wave of god-related banners:

A trinity of Christian groups have created their own series of advertisements to run across London buses

Fair enough, let’s see what they’ve got. Here’s the first, from the Christian Party:

There definitely is a God. So join the Christian Party and enjoy your life.

Quite the non-sequitur. A double helping, in fact. Why would the existence of god mean I should join the Christian party? And are the last two clauses linked? Will joining the Christian Party2 help me enjoy my life? How? It’s easy to see why ‘stop worrying and enjoy your life’ would make sense, but this? It’s a little cultish. And pretty tacky: using ‘god exists’ to advertise your political party is just cheap. Next?

There IS a God, BELIEVE. Don’t worry and enjoy your life.

Reports differ on the wording and formatting: the Telegraph says it’s “There is God, believe! Don’t Worry. Enjoy your life!”. Whatever. As a comeback, it’s (ahem) godawful.

Really, that’s the best you could do? No kind of logical rebuttal? Admittedly this is only a bus poster, but the atheist campaign said a lot in the word ‘probably’ – that was really something to get your teeth into, as it led into the philosophical arguments and the nature of reasonable belief. This banner just says ‘no no no. we win’. And if the Guardian is to be believed, resorts to shouting like a street-corner evangelist. Weak. And the last one?

The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.

My irony meter. You has broken it.

Seriously? After all that complaining over the horrendously insulting “now stop worrying and enjoy your life” you’re calling atheists ‘fools’? And with a quote from your magical book, no less? That’s certainly authoritative. Well done. Maybe your follow-up campaign can be ‘I AM A REAL BOY’.  That’ll do it.

Overall, not impressive. And these are all marketing criticisms – don’t even start me on the philosophical objections. Elsewhere, the BHA’s response has a lovely air of amused we-have-better-things-to-do, and ponders whether the new banners will – hide your irony meters – break advertising rules. I think the best response is to point and laugh.

  1. sometimes a bit disappointing: did anyone see Adrian Childs on The One Show saying they promote amorality? wtf? []
  2. incidentally, their website weirdly says: “Christianity is not a religion as such, it is a dynamic relationship with God in Christ Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit.” Right then. []

Religious nurses in a secular NHS

I’ve just seen the story of a Weston-Super-Mare nurse who’s been suspended after reportedly offering to pray for a patient’s recovery. She’s already being compared to the BA crucifix lady, with similarly broken arguments. The problem isn’t that she’s religious: the problem is she’s brought her religion into work, and in some jobs there are good reasons you shouldn’t do that.

Presumably, doing so makes nurses’ lives harder. I woudn’t have any problem being treated by an openly religious nurse, but I’m sure there are believers in other religions who would. What if some religious patients decide they’d rather be treated only by religious nurses? And only of their, specific religion? What if some nurses, through either non-belief, alternative religions, or just a secular approach, ‘refuse’ to pray for patients, while others don’t? Isn’t it unfair to put them into that position? And presumably nobody wants to be getting into metaphysical discussions on the ward. Also, while I wouldn’t be offended if someone offered to pray for me, I might get a bit worried: why, with all this medical equipment, are you offering to pray? What’s wrong with me? It seems to me that once a nurse’s religion becomes a factor in patient care, in any way, things can surely only get tougher.

Nurses are utterly fantastic. You could not pay me to do once the things they do every day, in 12-hour shifts, for little acclaim, little money, and the occasional vile spewings of Tories. I feel bad coming within a mile of saying a nurse is doing something wrong, but surely a completely secular approach is the wisest stance, here? I’m pretty sure codes of practice dictate as much, too.

I wasn’t sure about the suspension at first. If it violates a code then fair enough, but it seemed a touch extreme. Then I saw she’d previously been reprimanded for handing out prayer cards(!), so she’s only been suspended because this is the second incident. And the BBC article has this:

“My faith got stronger and I realised God was doing amazing things in my life.

“I saw my patients suffering and as I believe in the power of prayer, I began asking them if they wanted me to pray for them. They are absolutely delighted.”

Which suggests she’s been asking multiple patients, not just the one. And then:

Mrs Petrie said: “I stopped handing out prayer cards after that but I found it more and more difficult [not to offer them]. My concern is for the person as a whole, not just their health.

“I was told not to force my faith on anyone but I could respond if patients themselves brought up the subject [of religion].”

‘The person as a whole’? That’s a bit much. I’m sure she has the best of intentions, but she’s left the realm of evidence-based healthcare at this point. You can’t be in medicine and bring in your own remedies.

I think there are valid reasons for a completely secular NHS, as well as any public sector institution. But as a non-believer I’m mildly bothered she said something so ridiculous. Daniel Dennett, when told a friend had prayed for him, said ‘thank you – did you also sacrifice a goat?’. Her comment is undoubtedly well meant, but is equivalent to ‘I will petition the soil goblins to send ephemeral bunnies of health and beauty up through the hospital concrete, and they will burrow into your soul and make you better’. And her version makes even less sense: in the case of the Christian healing deity, there’s empirical evidence intercessory prayer doesn’t work (furthermore, knowing someone’s praying for you may actually make things worse).

I don’t care what nurses privately believe, but if I’m in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses who’ve gone through years of training in real ways to make people better, and millions of pounds worth of medical equipment designed to make people better, backed by thousands of research scientists who’ve devoted their lives to making people better, I don’t want to hear ‘do you want me to ask my sky fairy to help you out?’. It may be well intentioned, but it demeans the medical establishment, and it makes me sad.

The churches and the women

The big non-story of the weekend was the Church of England debating female bishops. They voted to allow the practice in principle, but the final vote won’t happen until 2011/2012. Or something. I don’t care.

Really, it’s like freemasonry. Freemasons are funny, with their Right Worshipful Brothers and and all that. They have their clubs with their rules and their games, and I generally see no reason to take any interest. If that’s what people want to do, no worries – I’d play Dungeons and Dragons if I could talk my friends into it. But freemasons aren’t fond of women either, and so piss me off. The first phrase that springs to mind is ‘stupid little club for stupid old men’. Which feels mean, and maybe isn’t fair – I know someone who’ll defend them for their charity work – but I’m happy to mock those who rationalise away Neanderthal sexism. You don’t deserve attention if you’re this backward. Pity maybe, but not attention. It is 2008.

Church of England = the same. I’m not interested in their little power struggles. They can do what they like. It’s not like this is the one remaining obstacle between them and rationality. But then I’ll remember that these people, these people tearing themselves apart over whether women should have the same rights as men, sit in the House of Lords. They can affect the law. And this is obviously worth screaming to the hilltops over. It is 2008.

But still – a weekend’s news coverage of old sexist dudes? Not worth the effort. But then. Then the Catholic Church stuck its oar in, and things became Very Funny Indeed.

The Vatican has a ‘Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity’. Sounds worthy, doesn’t it? Think of all the good things that could be done by unifying Christians! Here’s what its head said about the CoE’s decision:

For the future, this decision will have consequences for dialogue, which until now had borne much fruit.

Yes. Thanks for sorting out Northern Ireland, by the way.

Such a decision is a break with apostolic tradition maintained in all of the Churches in the first millennium, and is therefore a further obstacle for reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Church of England.

These people who issue edicts on behaviour. These people who claim to be a force for good in the 21st century. These people who continually witter on about their mischaracterisation by ‘militant atheists’, and who claim their religion is not the hate-filled, medieval backwater of the ‘extremists’. These people who would have us believe they can build bridges with other faiths and solve the world’s problems.

These people think it counterproductive that their competitors don’t treat women like shit. Competitors who believe in the same deity, read the same magical book, and are only a different religion in the same way Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant are different Doctors. The only ‘obstable for reconciliation’ is the stupid old men and their stupid little rules.

Their Bible says Jesus’ apostles were men. I note that said apostles were also all from the Middle East. And (somehow) white. And won’t have worn deodorant. Or watched televisions. And didn’t wear totally ridiculous hats1. But none of this matters – it seems the most important thing about the apostles was their genitalia.

It’s not really Very Funny Indeed. Innocent people, for perfectly understandable psychological reasons, pay attention to these whackjobs. They matter. Yet it’s 2008, and they still can’t handle women’s rights. Pathetic.

  1. NOT that there is anything wrong with wearing ridiculous hats. In fact it is one of the pleasures of life. If I were Pope I’d wear a ridiculous hat too. I suspect it is the main reason people become Pope []

Quite frankly it’s the only way to pray

It’s difficult to be offended by hair straighteners. Maybe if they set fire to your head, but otherwise, what’s to mind? Well, 23 Christians apparently don’t like their adverts, and somehow convinced the generally-sensible Advertising Standards Authority to uphold their complaint.

Here’s the advert (I don’t think it’s quite the banned one, but is close enough). Try to guess what the problem is:

What’s the main issue? They used a cross in place of the letter t. A cross. This makes the baby Jesus cry. He didn’t die / not die / zombify on a cross so people could just use it for…shudder…consumerism, you know. The very existence of the letter t is bad enough – it’s a little known fact that every time you write ‘turtle’ Jesus sends you to hell for another ten minutes – but making it look even more like a cross is offensive to people obsessed with medieval torture instruments. The ASA had no choice.

But Ben spotted the best bit, which has to be my favourite complaint ever. Not only did they use a cross without a note from the Pope, and not only was the Lord’s Prayer quoted without a safety cracker, but the women were ‘praying while being erotic’. Dolly Parton is so going to burn.

Out of the loop

Man, I don’t watch the news for 24h and things happen. The Archbishop of Canterbury apparently did something stupid and is facing calls to resign, though I haven’t read what he actually said yet so don’t know whether it’s quote-mining media hysteria. Having said that, the Archbishop’s ability to obfuscate his points to the point of abstraction is legendary – he’s good at making weasly statements that play to the faithful but give him an Out. I had to read last week’s talk on religious offence three times before I grasped what he was saying, but the blog post necessary to appropriately respond would have been insanely long – thankfully Ophelia and Martin did good jobs of demonstrating why saying something stupid in fancy language doesn’t make it any less stupid (he wants rid of the blasphemy law – yay! – but wants something more powerful in its place. Sigh.).

Also, what’s all this rubbish about acupuncture and IVF? Shall investigate.

Evil atheist fundamentalists are going to upset us all

The Archbishop of Wales:

Any kind of fundamentalism, be it Biblical, atheistic or Islamic, is dangerous.

I think we can agree that fundamentalism, suitably defined, is indeed horrible. I’m not sure what atheistic fundamentalism is meant to refer to, but helpfully he spells it out. Here’s what we’re going to do: let’s pretend for a minute that it’s real. It’s not, of course, but we’ll give him a pass as he can’t be expected to research his Christmas messages and perform all his Archbishop-y duties. Here is his list of the things fundamentalist atheists are supposedly doing:

  • Forcing councils to rename Christmas ‘Winterval’
  • Making schools put on plays other than the nativity at Christmas
  • Getting crosses removed from hospital chapels
  • Advocating that religion in general and Christianity in particular have no substance
  • Advocating that some view the faith as “superstitious nonsense”
  • Making ‘virulent, almost irrational1 attacks’ on Christianity
  • Forcing schools to stop their children sending Christmas cards with a Christian message
  • Making airlines refuse their staff permission to wear a cross around their necks

Holy shit. Those atheist fundamentalists are really pulling out the big guns. Councils are renaming Christmas? The humanity! Just for fun, here’s a list of the things Biblical and Islamic fundamentalists do:

  • Kill people for not worshipping their deity
  • Kill people for performing abortions
  • Kill people for trying to convert to another religion
  • Kill women for…pretty much anything
  • etc.

Not a disgusting comparison at all, then. What a revolting thing to do.

  1. Freudian slip []

Religious objections to cervical cancer vaccinations

I’ve been away from the news today so haven’t seen the coverage of the cervical cancer vaccine. I remember that similar proposals caused something of a fuss in the US, and I’m wondering whether the UK media gave the nutters any airtime. The main BBC News article doesn’t even mention them, which is cool. The health Q&A mentions them briefly, but it’s only a dumb Have Your Say question that really raises the issue. Quite glad I didn’t listen to Jeremy Vine today, though.

There are probably some anti-vaccination nutters out there, but I’m specifically thinking of the extreme religious variety:

Some Christian groups have expressed unease, concerned that the jab may encourage promiscuity.

Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said the way to tackle the problem was not to offer injections, but to tell girls not to have under-age sex.

Because cervical cancer is god’s way of punishing women for having under-age sex. Or over-age sex, for that matter. I’m sure they could pick up an STD from their husband, if he’d had extra-marital sex, but presumably it’s still up to the women to suffer, as ever. What a vile little shit these people worship.

Obviously it’s not all Christians and is limited to an extreme fringe. But it’s still astonishing to me that anybody could fall for a belief system which requires them to publicly suggest they would prefer to see women have underage sex and get cancer than them have underage sex and not get cancer. How do you break your brain that much?

The Passion of the Christ 2

I’d pay to see it:

“Remember me now, Peter, remember me now?!”

Via Pharyngula. Like one of the commenters says, isn’t this the actual plot of the Left Behind series?

This is as good a place as any to mention the funniest thing I read all week: in a discussion of ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’, in which beehives are failing when their occupants fail to return, somebody suggested that the bees may have been raptured. It’s a good job I wasn’t drinking at the time.