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In 1925, one of the most unusual trials ever seen in a United States courtroom took place. Earlier that year, the state of Tennessee had passed the Butler Act, which made the teaching of evolution illegal. In the stifling July heat, and in a courtroom hung with banners proclaiming ‘Read Your Bible Daily’, 24-year-old teacher John Scopes stood trial.
Richard Dawkins famously said that there are no Catholic babies, or Protestant babies, or Muslim babies, or Hindu babies â€“ they are all just babies. In the Observer in December 2001 he wrote,
Where we might have said, â€œKnowing his father, I expect young Cowdrey will take up cricket,â€ we emphatically do not say, â€œWith her devout Catholic parents, I expect young Bernadette will take up Catholicism.â€ Instead we say, without a momentâ€™s hesitation or qualm of misgiving, â€œBernadette is a Catholic.â€ We state it as a simple fact even when she is far too young to have developed a theological opinion of her own.
The Trust found that the editorial policy of only allowing religious contributors to participate on Thought for the Day does not breach either the BBC Editorial Guideline on impartiality or the BBC’s duty to reflect religious and other beliefs in its programming.
It’s tedious, hearing those in Parliament wittering on about “secularism”, when they clearly haven’t a clue what it means. But then, neither do a majority of religious leaders (including Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury) who complain about “aggressive secularism”.
Personally, I’m feeling quite aggressive about the latest threat to secularism; John Denham, the Communities Secretary, has announced that a new panel of religious experts has been set up to advise the Government on making public policy decisions. I’d hoped that that sort of nonsense would have been dropped when Hazel Blears departed, but no.
A few of the stories that have caught my eye on the Interweb this week:
* As an antidote to the depressing news that a significant proportion of British people think that creationism ought to be included in school science lessons, we can celebrate a development in education. Evolution will be in the national curriculum for primary schools when the new version is published soon. Andrew Copson from the BHA wrote in the Guardian:
The new primary curriculum, together with the 2007 government guidance that prohibits the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in science lessons, should put English schools in the forefront of education about evolution. Coming in the month which marks the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, and at a point when good science education is a matter of urgency, it could not be more timely.
* We will have to remain vigilant, however, when loonies of all sorts seek access to our classrooms. The Times Educational Supplement reported a couple of days ago that …
A school initiative that trains children in â€œenergy therapyâ€ has been criticised as unscientific by two senior academics.
The recent Intelligence Squared debate – ‘The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World‘ – when Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry soundly thrashed Anne Widdicombe and Archbishop Onaiyekan, is now online. Watch and enjoy.
Although there were representatives of other faiths at the Cenotaph this morning, the religious part of the remembrance ceremony was Christian, as usual. Today and on Tuesday (Armistice Day, 11th November), Christian ceremonial will predominate, regardless of the fact that services personnel are of all faiths and none, and that those who join them on Remembrance Day are also a diverse cross-section of society. To be wholly inclusive, such ceremonial should be completely secular, allowing those who are religious to have separate ceremonies afterwards.
Not many people will know that there is now a UK Armed Forces Humanist Association, which welcomes new members. Those who serve in the armed forces should not be expected to participate in religious ceremonial that has no relevance to them.
While the BBC Trust deliberates today on whether to allow more Humanist broadcasting, including Thoughts for the Day, Humanist peers debated the issue last night. One of the speakers, Baroness Massey of Darwen, said,
Humanism is growing in strength. It has growing public recognition in non-religious ceremonies such as marriages, funerals and baptisms. This has made significant contributions to public policy. The moral values held by humanists are weighed and considered. Humanism is a philosophy in its own right and is not a negative response to religion. The BBC needs in its programmes to give a perspective from the non-religious viewpoint.
There’ve been Humanist Thoughts for the Day on BBC Radio Suffolk since 1995, though the slot has been cut to Sundays only for a while now, presumably because it wasn’t popular.
In today’s Guardian, Phil Hall writes about humanist funerals, and why he finds them much more satisfying than …
… religious funerals, where a stranger usually officiates and witters on about heaven, often fail to commemorate a life well lived properly. Religious funerals can be a whimpering anti-climax.
He goes on,
In contrast, the humanist funerals in our family were completely satisfying and eclectic. They looked backwards and allowed us to see the lives of our loved ones clearly. We did not need to look forwards towards some sort of puzzling postscript. Perhaps the last thing people want after a death, during the messy form of group therapy that is a funeral, is for some sanctimonious stranger to stand up and start talking about a the afterlife.