News good and bad from the British Isles

Via Dawkins’ site, I caught this article from the London Times, and its headline is a thing of such beauty it practically made me weep for joy: Churchgoing on its knees as Christianity falls out of favour. The article’s lead practically has you grabbing the phone to hire a marching band and sending out eVites for a block party. If only this were America.

Church attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published today suggests.

The fall – from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today – means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable. A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers’ pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die.

But then, read on a bit, and the other shoe drops.

In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims will have increased from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035.

According to Religious Trends, a comprehensive statistical analysis of religious practice in Britain, published by Christian Research, even Hindus will come close to outnumbering churchgoers within a generation.

Okay, it’s great to see one pernicious religion biting the dust somewhere, but the idea is not that we just want to see its former prominence supplanted by yet another pernicious religion…one even more pernicious, since, while Christianity’s fanatics (say, Paul Hill) only occasionally resort to outright murder, Islam’s are all too gung-ho about it. When Muslims will parade with signs that say “Behead Those Who Insult Islam!” you know you’re dealing with something far too FUBAR to be dealt with through civilized dialogue. Reason may win the fight fairly easily against Christianity, but if Islam, with its barbaric sharia laws and general bent towards theocratic fascism, simply slipped in and took its place, we’d be even worse off than where we started.

Atheists and rationalists still have a long way to go, and a lot of work to do, before the civilized world gets the message that the best way to get through life and get along with your fellow man is actually to use that little lump of grey matter between your ears.

A nice bit of snark from Ebert

I’m a big fan of Roger Ebert, the famed movie critic who’s been out sick for most of the last year or so undergoing various surgeries. He’s back in the saddle now, while during his absense, most of the reviewing was done by his website editor Jim Emerson, himself a very astute critic.

Anyway, in this week’s Movie Answer Man letter column, it appears as if Ebert’s gotten an indignant email from, one assumes by the text, a creationist who asks:

Q. Readers want to know if the Movie Answer Man is too PC to review “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”?
Ruddy Spencer, Tucson, Ariz.

The real answer would mostly be that Ebert, being a movie critic, only goes to see movies when they’re screened for critics, which Expelled was not, for obvious reasons. But I like Ebert’s reply to Ruddy Spencer better.

A. The last I heard, it is not considered Politically Correct to agree with Darwin. I think it is more like, oh, intelligent.

Zing!

Why abandoning reason is, like, bad

In the news today:

Two children and their mother lived for about two months with the decaying body of a 90-year-old woman on the toilet of their home’s only bathroom, on the advice of a religious “superior” who claimed the corpse would come back to life, authorities said Friday…

She said she propped Middlesworth on the toilet and left the room to call [Bishop John Peter] Bushey, who told her to leave the woman alone and pray for her, the complaint said. He said he had received signs that God would raise her from the dead with a miracle.

A mind is a wonderful thing to waste, eh?

So…where did they go to the toilet all that time? No, I don’t want to know.

The Colson thing already getting amusing

Kazim and I have heard back from Mike Pritchard, who told us he’s sending us Colson’s book and all that. Kazim then set out a few parameters for how we would like any dialogue to go, mindful of the fact that our usual dealings with apologists reveal them to be, oh, less than scrupulously honest, shall we say. Mike responded with this interestingly worded note.

Yes, this all sounds great to me. I thought about the difference between the posting and comments too, and explained this to my liaison with Chuck. Basically, we know the comments could go in a million different directions, but we’ll just keep focused on the main blog postings and realize the comments are a bit of the Wild Wild West if you will.

Let me run all this by Chuck’s folks, but I’m confident they’ll agree too. I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for documenting this all out.

“My liaison with Chuck”? “Chuck’s folks”? First we’re told that Colson wants all dialogue to go through Mike Pritchard, and now it looks like everything is going to get filtered through Mike and a small army of handlers. It’s as if Colson doesn’t want to talk to the evil godless heathens without a bunch of redshirts shielding him or something. Our suspicion is that Colson is having his “folks” contact quite a lot of atheist blogs, with the intent of choosing the one offering the most lightweight arguments against his book. People who tend to be hard arguers like us could well end up not being chosen to participate in this “dialogue” at all.

Still, we’ll see. Kazim, Matt and I are all finding the whole thing kind of entertaining, and if the book turns up, all I can promise to do is read it and be as honest in my critique as I can. Which will probably mean he won’t want me to join in. But we’ll just play it as it lays.

Since I haven’t really read any of Colson’s books or columns, I plan to do so over the next few weeks to see what his standard points are. I already know he’s got a list of “Ten Questions About Origins,” which an initial reading reveals to be the usual McDonald’s menu of creationist canards and ignorance (where are the transitional fossils? what about the 2nd Law? what about irreducible complexity? yada yada). I suppose I’ll respond to that one first, probably early next week, and then see what else he’s got.

Ken Follett on secular ethics

On page 426 of Ken Follett’s latest novel, World Without End, I came across a neat quote. The story, which is a sequel to Pillars of the Earth, takes place in 14th century England, in a town that is mostly managed by monks from the local cathedral. A monk named Godwyn has devised a scheme to bilk the townspeople out of a bunch of money.


Caris wondered whether he believed that any deceit was pardonable provided it was done for the sake of God’s work. Surely men of God should be more scrupulous about honesty than laymen, not less?

She put the point to her father, as they hung around the court, waiting for their case to come up. He said: “I never trust anyone who proclaims his morality from the pulpit. That high-minded type can always find an excuse for breaking his own rules. I’d rather do business with an everyday sinner who thinks it’s probably to his advantage, in the long run, to tell the truth and keep his promises. He’s not likely to change his mind about that.”

Email from Chuck Colson’s group

An emailer named Mike, who bears the superfluously fancy title of “Consumer Engagement Manager, Internet Marketing and Social Networks,” privately emailed the following to me:


Hi Russell -

I came across your blog at http://atheistexperience.blogspot.com/ and am writing with a unique opportunity for you. Chuck Colson, former Counsel to President Richard Nixon, who converted to Christianity before spending time in prison on a Watergate-related charge, has written a new book called The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters. Chuck is the founder of Prison Fellowship. His radio broadcast, BreakPoint, airs daily to five million listeners. In the last thirty-three years, Colson has visited more than 600 prisons in forty countries and, with the help of nearly 50,000 volunteers, has built Prison Fellowship into the world’s largest prison outreach. You can learn more information about Chuck’s new book at www.Zondervan.com/TheFaith.

The reason I am writing is that Chuck wants to have a friendly dialogue with a few atheist bloggers about his book. We’d like to invite you to be one of the bloggers.

This is a unique opportunity in that you’ll be able to dialogue directly with Chuck Colson about his book The Faith and Christianity. (Well, he has asked that the dialogue flow through me, but Chuck personally will be replying in person to all the dialogue.) Zondervan will periodically promote this dialogue on our blog, so this should generate more traffic to your blog. Also, this will be an opportunity for your blog readers to react to your dialogue with Chuck.

Let me know if you are interested? If so, I will mail you a free copy of Chuck Colson’s The Faith. We’d like to try to have this dialogue sometime in June, so we’d give you a couple of weeks to read the book and generate a few questions for Chuck. I’ll then get those questions to Chuck and his reply back to you. You’re welcome to then post the dialogue up on your blog, and respond with some counter-points or questions too if you’d like, which I’d again get to Chuck. I don’t know for sure how much back and forth Chuck will want to do, but I know he’s up for at least one round and my hunch is he’d be up for a few rounds of dialogue. An important point though is Chuck would like to keep the dialogue friendly & civil. Fair enough?

If interested, please send me a mailing address and I’ll get you a copy of Chuck’s book. Let me know if you have any questions on this. Thanks for considering this unique opportunity!

Chuck strikes me as a tad bit full of himself and the tremendous significance of this out of all other apologetics books. I went ahead and gave him my address, saying I wouldn’t mind looking it over but I don’t promise to drop everything and read it by a suitable deadline. I also notified Martin and Matt.

Mike touts that this will be swell publicity for this blog. Shrug. It is certainly publicity of a sort, but the result is that we will probably be flooded in the short term by Christian trolls.

On the other hand, eyeballs are eyeballs, and Chuck certainly has an audience. If we’re not bothered by exposing ourselves to phone-in trolls on cable access TV, it’s not necessarily terrible to have a few hundred thousand Christians hear about atheism from an atheist for a change, instead of from Chuck Colson.

I don’t doubt that if Chuck reposts our conversation, he could very well (a) whack the content with an editor stick, (b) fail to link the response at any time, and (c) cherry pick responses to prove that atheists are rude and “angry.” (Given the nature of blog comments, I’m sure he’ll be provided with ample material, as will we on the other side.) But still, it might be an entertaining exercise, and wouldn’t be the first time I’ve read apologetics in order to form a proper critique.

Quite possibly the best Ben Stein beatdown I’ve yet read

If it weren’t enough for this moon-faced git to have ended up one of Olbermann’s Worst People in the World, try this on for size. No one has quite dissected what a deeply immoral, cretinous piece of lying filth Ben Stein is like Jeff Dorchen. Beauty.

That a man, let alone a Jew, could, without shame, walk on the graves of Holocaust victims and claim the theory of evolution was at fault, let alone a man whose nationalism, social darwinism (which is not Darwinism, by the way), anti-intellectualism, and disregard for the truth are beyond doubt – it’s like some ghastly executioner’s joke.

True dat.

From the “Life Imitates Twilight Zone” file

Yahoo News reports:

Man asks court to change his name to ‘In God We Trust’

ZION, Ill. – Steve Kreuscher wants a judge to allow him to legally change his name. He wants to be known as “In God We Trust.”

Kreuscher (CROY’-shir) says the new name would symbolize the help God gave him through tough times.

The 57-year-old man also told the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald he’s worried that atheists may succeed in removing the phrase “In God We Trust” from U.S. currency.

He recalls that the phrase “God Reigns” was removed from the Zion city seal in 1992 after courts deemed it unconstitutional. Zion was founded as a theocracy — by a sect that believed the Earth was flat.

The school bus driver and amateur artist in the northern Chicago suburb says he has filed a petition to change his name in Lake County Circuit Court.

It looks like this poor chap’s mind got washed over the edge of the world long ago. Maybe someone could tell him that (and if there’s ever been a classic believer-inspired WTF moment, this has to be it) changing his name to “In God We Trust” does not in any way impact whatever the legal status of the phrase on money might be. And in the event the phrase ever were removed from currency, well, senseless as it may be, he could still choose it as his name.

Is there something about religion that just draws unhinged, reality-challenged people like this? Poor, poor fellow. Well, he’s still not as stupid as this guy.

The ICR gets even more sleazy and desperate

Following in the morally bankrupt footsteps of Ben Stein and Expelled, the ICR is responding to its snub by the state with a PR campaign designed (and not intelligently) to paint themselves as heroic champions and martyrs to “free inquiry” whose work is being “stifled” by a hostile scientific mainstream. Those of you who opened the Austin paper today to page A16 were probably aghast to see the full-page, four-color ad they bought pushing this very fantasy.

This is how far creationism has fallen. Having never produced any actual scientific research to support their position, thwarted time and again by courts and school boards to push their openly religious position in classrooms, they have run out of ways to rebrand creationism with terms like “intelligent design” to slip past the lemon test, and are now reduced simply to pounding their widdle fists on their high-chair tables and bleating “It’s not faaaair!”

Their bogus “academic freedom” bills in Florida got stalled and died in committee, their movie flopped, the courts are eating their lunch, newspaper and media editorials are ridiculing them mercilessly. (Even arch-conservative John Darbyshire, a man so despicable he mocked the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting for not being brave enough to rush the shooter while he was spraying them with lead, derided Expelled and the whole ID movement as “shifty” and “morally corrupted…irredeemably.”) What are poor creationists to do? Well, certainly not science. That’s a hell of a lot more work than just placing newspaper ads. And besides, if you actually did scientific research, there’s that distressing risk your results would not back up your “doctrinal statement” you force your members to sign, that “All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the creation week described in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8-11. The creation record is factual, historical and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false.” Yes, I know the ICR claims to do actual scientific research. But curiously, they do not submit this work to peer-reviewed scientific journals. All the better to sell their conspiracy theory and martyr fantasies, of course. But as Texas Citizens for Science points out:

Real scientists use the scientific method and possess the scientific attitude, which means that they work within a framework of methodological naturalism no matter what their religious beliefs may be. About 40% of real scientists believe in a supernatural, personal deity, but they don’t conduct their scientific inquiries within a framework of supernaturalism as do the ICR Creation “scientists.” ICR claims that its staff members keep their Biblical beliefs separate from their scientific beliefs, but that’s nonsense. All of their classes and literature are Bible-based and stress their Literalist doctrine of Young Earth Creationism. Real scientists propose hypotheses that can be tested using empirical and logical methods — that’s the basis of methodological naturalism — and Creationism by a supernatural Deity ultimately cannot be tested in this fashion. Of course, many proximate claims of the Creationists can be tested, such as the 10,000 years age of the Earth, a universal global flood, the lack of transitional fossils, macroevolution does not occur, etc. Fortunately for us, these claims have all been tested and they have all failed, since the claims were all based on specious reasoning and misinterpreted evidence, which has been amply documented in the anti-Creationist literature.

So the ship of fools sails on, low in the water, undaunted by the fact it’s been hulled beneath the waterline and the pumps are failing. My letter to the Statesman has been sent, and I sure hope it pisses off some ICRbot if it appears. I suppose one could admire the tenacity of creationists like them, were it not for the fact it’s the same tenacity of, say, some kook who’s taken to stalking a woman. There’s a time to get the message, and to realize no means no, and you’ve been out of the running for a long long time. Creationism is well past that point, and I think they’re going to find further efforts at pursuing their pseudoscience and pseudomartyrdom received by even more disdain and ridicule than they’re already getting.