Philosophy, fish, and other matters
A quick trawl through the Internet for the weekend, to keep the little grey cells going. Firstly, Dr Stephen Law, a member of the BHA’s Humanist Philosophers, has a blog that’s worth reading. Among other things, he asks, “Does the concept of an intelligent designer make sense?’ We know the answer, but for anyone who doesn’t, here’s something to consider:
… when we suppose that the spatio-temporal universe was created by some sort of agent, we are presumably supposing it was designed by a non-temporal agent â€“ an agent that does not (or at least did not then) exist in time. For there was not yet any time for the agent to exist in. But if desires are psychological states with temporal duration, how, then, could this agent possess the desire to create the universe? And how did it perform the act of creation if there was not yet any time in which actions might be performed? It is hard to see how talk of a non-temporal agent makes any more sense than talk of a non-spatial mountain.
The NSS’s Keith Porteous Wood comments about the Church of England’s determination to keep their bishops in the House of Lords on the NSS website:
Their presence in the House of Lords is unsupportable in a country where less than half of the people do not belong to Christianity, far less, the Church of England. The UK is the only Western democracy that has clerics in its parliament as of right. These clerics are all men, they are unrepresentative and, despite their claims, they have no special insight or universally accepted morality to bring to the debate.
Over the last couple of weeks there’s been some heated debate about the Islamic ‘threat’ to Europe and the UK from the immigration of fundamentalists and their influence in our secular (or semi-secular) society in NSS Newsline’s letters section. I blogged about it recently, questioning the assertions being made about the subject. One of the comments was from BHA trustee Josh Kutchinsky, who wrote,
Those who propose acts of discrimination against Muslims are in fact anti-Muslim in exactly the same way as others are anti-Semites. Of course there are those in both religious groupings who have irrational hatred for each other too. There are some, often from the far right of the political spectrum who are anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and generally racist to boot. Prejudice feeds off rumour, scare stories and exaggeration but it is never founded on them.
What do you think?
The New Scientist website has some fascinating photographs and videos. Among them is one about men and their attractiveness to a potential mate, based on whether or not they can dance.
They don’t say whether a woman’s moves on the dance floor make her more or less attractive, but perhaps men are less discriminating than women?
Most Humanists try to shop ethically and exercise their purse power. One of the items on our shopping lists for non-vegetarians might be fish, but do you know what to look for? Many of the most popular types of fish are under threat from over-fishing, while some, like the ‘rock eel’ sold in fish ‘n chip shops, are close to extinction – rock eel is a type of shark. The Marine Stewardship Council is promoting responsible fish-eating with its Sustainable Seafood Lunch on September 30th, when you’re encouraged to enjoy sustainably-caught fish.
Another thing we need to be aware of when we’re shopping is palm oil, but this is more difficult, as it’s contained in a wide variety of foods and other products, including cleaning products, that aren’t clearly labelled. Often it’s described as ‘vegetable oil’. Why should you avoid it? Because the unscrupulous palm oil industry is destroying huge swathes of rainforest in Borneo and Sumatra, denying many species their natural habitat, including our cousins the red apes – orang-utans. Orang-utan mothers are killed, leaving the babies to die. They will be extinct before long if this practice doesn’t stop. Our webmaster Nathan Nelson explains about this on his website, Big Wide World.
In the last ten years, an estimated 20,000 orangutans have been killed or poached, and not a single prosecution has been brought against any of those responsible. Killing, harming or even moving orangutans is illegal in Indonesia, and orangutans are theoretically protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Another topic covered on Big Wide World is climate change and carbon offsetting, which was the subject of a discussion some of us had over a pub lunch in Woodbridge last month. This is of particular interest in anticipation of the approaching Copenhagen climate change conference. Is it possible to make a difference fast enough to prevent catastrophe?
Last week, I attended a meeting between faith officers and others from Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource and some faith representives from Local Strategic Partnerships. I’m a SIFRE tutor and a member of the Faiths Officer’s team, representing Humanism. It would take too long to explain here why we have very strong reservations about the way the LSP reps were chosen (shared with some SIFRE people). I’m just going to mention one of the people I met there – a ‘street pastor‘, who patrols the streets of a North Suffolk town, ‘caring and listening’ when young people leave the pubs and clubs. I didn’t realise at first who he was, until, during a discussion over the board game ‘Diversity‘, I mentioned that Humanists strongly disapproved of proselytising and missionary work, referring to Operation Christmas Child and others. A Buddhist colleague commented that she was glad I’d raised the issue, and that she agreed with me. The street pastor, and a chap from the Church Army who’s a faith rep on an LSP in the north of the county, both said that they’re obliged to spread the word of God because it says so in the Bible. It appears that other Christians might not agree with them, I said, as the Quakers and the Unitarians don’t proselytise. They didn’t have an answer to that, and as we didn’t have any Quakers or Unitarians at the table, neither did they. This was all very civilised. I was prevented from expressing myself more forcefully by observing the SIFRE code; that we tend to skirt around serious differences. However, anyone who lives in the Waveney area of Suffolk might like to take up the issue of street pastors with the council there, as a correspondent to NSS Newsline from Bath has done:
As a concerned taxpayer, I wrote to both the Chief Inspector of Police, and the Community Partnerships Manager of the local authority politely enquiring whether any evaluations of such schemes had been undertaken regarding their impact on community safety, and whether funding a project that only allows Christians to volunteer, was compliant with obligations under equalities and anti-discrimination legislation. No such evaluations had been carried out.
After some persistence on my part, however, the Council undertook something called an Equalities Impact Assessment, which had to acknowledge the fact that, under the aims of the scheme Street Pastors could only be recruited from “individuals with a Christian Faith” and was also only open to those “whose relationship lifestyle is in keeping with mainstream Christian teaching” â€“ i.e. no gays or lesbians, thank you.
I have just received confirmation from a slightly embarrassed Council official that the scheme will receive no further public funding, and wanted to share with your readership a small, but satisfying, victory against the encroachment of religion into public life.
If you’ve spotted anything on the Internet that you’d like to share, please get in touch.