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“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge” – Charles Darwin

Darwin and his cousin

The naturalist Charles Darwin was born 203 years ago today, Darwin Day.

In his book, On the Origin of Species, Darwin set out what is probably the most important idea in the history of science. He reasoned that plants, animals and all living things are not static and unchanging, remaining as they were made by a divine creator; instead they change subtly from one generation to the next and those that are better suited to whatever environment they find themselves in prosper and reproduce more, while those that are less well suited don’t. In this way, plants and animals gradually change, eventually developing into new species and producing the huge variety of nature that we see today. Darwin’s theory, evolution by natural selection, is at the root of our understanding about life on Earth: it explains why there is such diversity in nature, why we are here, and why we are as we are.

On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, yet there are still many who reject evolution as an explanation for how we came to be here, prefering the Biblical story of Genesis or another creation myth – there are many – and there are still too many children leaving school ignorant of the theory of evolution.

For more on evolution and ‘Intelligent Design’ (Creationism in another form) click here for our article, We’re all Monkeys.

The sharpest young opinion-formers are atheists

… the sharpest young opinion-formers are atheists. This is a development that seems to have been missed by the old boobies who pass for bishops in the Anglican and Catholic Churches. It’s a rapid and startling change in our religious landscape and not one that is going to be reversed.

NSS forces High Court ruling on council prayers

Following a Judicial Review initiated by the National Secular Society to challenge the practice of having prayers as part of the formal business of council meetings in Bideford Town Council (Devon), the High Court has ruled:

The saying of prayers as part of the formal meeting of a Council is not lawful under s111 of the Local Government Act 1972, and there is no statutory power permitting the practice to continue.

This began when Bideford Town Councillor Clive Bone, who’s an atheist, was elected in 2007; he found that he was expected to say prayers at the beginning of meetings. Councillors in other areas have had similar objections, saying that this practice puts off atheists or people of other faiths from standing for election. Click here to hear Mr Bone talking about it.

I have repeatedly tried to persuade Babergh District Council (my local council) to change its practice of beginning full council meetings with prayers, and been told that they see no reason to change. Maybe this will make them think again.

From 2002-2003 British Guyana-born Harold Mangar was chairman of Suffolk County Council. He decided that he wanted to do things differently. During his term of office, Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource provided speakers from various local faith groups, and a humanist (me), to address full council meetings ten minutes before their council business began. The day I did it, several councillors told me that they normally arrived late to avoid prayers, but had made a special effort to come and hear me.

Now that the High Court has ruled, we will be drawing Suffolk local authorities’ attention to the illegality of their practices.

Oh dear, Christians are upset again

Two stories about churches of various sorts.

The first is a bunch of them in the US. Leaders from Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Jewish, Lutheran, Mormon, and Pentecostal communities in the United States have signed an open letter about the “serious consequences of redefining marriage”. They say these consequences will …

… arise in a broad range of legal contexts, because altering the civil definition of “marriage” does not change one law, but hundreds, even thousands, at once. By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status—such as employment discrimination, employment benefits, adoption, education, healthcare, elder care, housing, property, and taxation—will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage. That requirement, in turn, will apply to religious people and groups in the ordinary course of their many private or public occupations and ministries—including running schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other housing facilities, providing adoption and counseling services, and many others.

Not content with confining their ideas about marriage to their own communities, the church leaders want to stop the liberalisation of marriage law and remove the legal sanctions for discrimination against homosexuals and others. This “redefinition of marriage” is being described as “a direct attack on religious freedom”. Click here to read about it.

The second story is about a “crisis of faith”, according to some religious leaders, as the idea of “de-baptism”, started as a joke by the National Secular Society, has caught on across Europe and America. The NSS’s “de-baptism certificate” has been downloaded from its website at least 100,000 times, while it’s been reported that “the church has put in place a new evangelizing strategy to more strongly encourage parents to get their children baptized”.

The Pink Humanist

Pink Humanist

The UK gay humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust (PTT) re-launched its online magazine in December last year with a new title, The Pink Humanist.

The PTT, which was founded in 1992, started publishing a printed magazine entitled Gay and Lesbian Humanist back in 1993 and continued this until it went online in 2008. Though described as an LGBT publication, the new magazine is aimed at all atheists, humanists, sceptics and freethinkers and is the only one of its kind worldwide.

Tell Chevron to clear up the mess they made in Ecuador

Last November, SH&S group members watched a film called The Age of Stupid, which included footage of the environmental damage caused by oil companies in Nigeria.

You may not be aware that similar damage has been caused to the environment in the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador by Chevron, formerly Texaco, poisoning the indiginous people who live there. Please click here to view a video about the damage and sign an online petition telling Chevron to clean up its mess, which they’ve so far denied.

Bibles for schools

An angry parent has told us that the Gideons have visited her child’s school, where they contributed to an act of collective worship and gave every child a Bible. Most people have heard of Gideon Bibles being left in hotel rooms, but they distribute them in many other places too. On their website they say,

We are aware that many people in Britain have never seen a Bible and may be uncertain what it is.

Our aim is to give them the opportunity to read it for themselves, perhaps for the first time, and to discover God in a personal way.

The Gideons place Bibles or New Testaments in many areas including:

Hotels
Hospitals
Prisons
Student Accommodation
Care Homes
Medical Centres

Additionally we make personal presentations of God’s Word.

Each year we present personal copies of the New Testament and Psalms to children in thousands of British secondary schools and to many university and college students.

We make personal presentations to medical personnel and uniformed services – Armed Forces, Police, Ambulance and Fire.

We place New Testaments at hospital bedsides.

Quite apart from the fact that it isn’t appropriate to allow groups like this to proselytise in schools, the Bible isn’t a guide for life, as we reported earlier. When teachers allow this to happen, maybe they haven’t considered why they shouldn’t? Suffolk’s SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education) has provided some guidelines for schools on visitors to RE lessons and assemblies.

Prayer

The most odious of concealed narcissisms – prayer.