Tag Archive | freethought

Satanic wind turbines

When the spires of churches, abbeys and cathedrals rose against the backdrop of the pristine rural landscape of medieval Britain, no one complained about how the tall monuments to the Christian god polluted the hills and the valleys.  Nobody said in desperate anguish,

“Is now not the time to say “enough” to any further blots on our landscape?”

Well, probably not, as any medieval church nimby who dared to complain would likely be on the receiving end of medieval Christian love: your property confiscated by the church and a burning at the stake.  Fortunately, these days such complainants wouldn’t be at the vicious mercy of lords and clerics.  At worst they get ridicule.

So step up Rt Revd Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle.

In a sermon against wind farms he somehow managed to imply that wind turbines are un-Christian, claiming the demonic wind turbines are turning the North East countryside into a “disfigured industrial landscape”:

“It is a basic Christian truth that we all have a duty and a responsibility to care for and exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation, which has been entrusted to us.”

The ‘basic truth’ is that our modern society needs energy.  Lots of it.  We also need to produce energy whilst at the same time reducing our carbon emissions to try and minimise the inevitable effects of climate change.  Wind, along with solar energy, ground source heat and other renewable and low carbon energy sources each need to form part of mixed energy solution.

Wharton, along with many wind turbine objectors, seem to hold a vague romantic view of the rural landscape, putting it on a mythic pastoral pedestal.  The reality is different; our rural landscape is home to the industry of providing food, a landscape designed, shaped and developed over a thousand years to feed people and maximise profits for landowners.  Enjoying the benefits of the latest in agricultural technology: materials, machinery and an arsenal of chemicals to squeeze out every ounce of productivity, a environment equally moulded by technology as it is by social change.  Underground, the mines of the North East provided the lead, iron and coal to fuel the industrial revolution.  Electricity pylons and telephone lines carry electricity and words, roads and railways carrying people, all have had a criss-crossing visual impact on the countryside.  It’s a landscape which has been evolving for thousands of years, and we’ve become so accustomed to many of these “blots on our landscape” that they have become part of it.  It’s a delicious irony that many of those who object to wind farms in Northumberland also want to see the very same countryside slashed with a dual carriageway all the way through the county.

Much of the wealth of the Church of England has been from it’s massive property holdings, so the church holds some responsibility for the current appearance of much of Britain’s landscape.  Hypocrisy?  You betcha.  Inclosure acts took land from communities and handed it over to landowners, changing rural society forever, with open land sliced away in a thousand pen strokes, the church often profiting from such acts.  Here in South Tyneside, the Church Commissioners’ vision of a “wise stewardship over God’s creation” included a plan to build a ‘business park’ and housing over the green belt at Fellgate in Jarrow.  In Gateshead the “wise stewardship” gave us the Metrocentre, ushering in out of town shopping, increased car use and the near death of many town centres.  Even now it looks like the Church Commissioners are seeking to claim mineral rights using ancient laws, looking forward to mammonic feast at the fracking trough.

The church cannot pretend to be protectors of our landscape or our environment.

Now, with wind farms, we are seeing the next step in the evolution of our northern landscapes (and seascapes), producing energy for an ever power hungry nation.  As an industrial scale technology, the second wind energy revolution is still in it’s infancy, and many detractors like Wharton use this to imply that the technology is unproven or unable to provide energy adequately:

“There is no evidence that I have seen that suggests that wind farms will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that is required by our society, however many there might be.

“Furthermore some studies have even suggested that far from reducing CO2 emissions, wind farms actually increase them.”

Go back a mere hundred and twenty years, and many people with a similarly Luddite bent would be saying something eerily similar about electricity.

It shouldn’t really be surprising that a cleric would try to justify his opinion using an ancient holy book – the same holy book which also gives valuable nuggets of advice about how you should beat your wife and slave, and stone children for giving you lip.  However, when claiming a lack of evidence for an emerging technology, Wharton should realise that his glass house of god doesn’t stand up to the rocks of evidence at all.


Aphids for Jesus

Tree Has Patrons Crying For Joy – Philadelphia News, Weather and Sports from WTXF FOX 29.

Christians in the USA declare aphid excretions as miraculous.  WTXF – What The Xtian Fuck?

Where is everybody?

Not on Fermi ground…

Just over two years ago Mike Hallowell vomited a confused mess of an article over a page in the Shields Gazette, generally having a go at an imagined army of ‘rabid’ sceptics who dared to cast doubt on the belief that extra-terrestrials are visiting our planet in UFOs.  I found nothing convincing in his argument, nor in his lengthy responses to my blog post dissecting his nonsense.

Tonight he’s tilting at sceptics again, regurgitating the same arguments, albeit with a twist at the end where he offers a different opinion on the source of UFOs.  I could offer a similar robust critique to tonight’s article, but my original response pretty much stands up to the same teetering Jenga tower of logical fallacies.  Essentially he’s trying a play on the Fermi paradox but without any serious analysis of elephant in the room: where is the convincing incontrovertible evidence?  As Fermi said “Where is everybody?”  All of the ‘sceptics’ I know agree that there is a good probability that there is life elsewhere in our galaxy of 300 billion stars, and further into the universe.  Indeed, the ‘irrational’ Carl Sagan was hugely optimistic that life was out there.  It would be sad if there wasn’t.

But that doesn’t mean ETs have been here (yet at least), and there’s nothing that definitively proves that they have.  The best challenge Hallowell could muster for the lack of evidence was this painfully desperate gambit

One sceptic argued with me that “not a single piece of evidence exists that UFOS ever visited 
earth” .

This is a staggering claim, and one which could only be verified by searching every square inch of our planet – overground, underground, land-based and oceanic.

That’s right.  His argument is ‘you can’t say there’s no evidence if you haven’t found that there’s no evidence’.  Not a single piece of evidence has been found that flying horses exist or have existed either, but there are many people who suffer the delusion that flying horses existed.  Perhaps evidence for them is underground or underwater somewhere.

The headline to the article was “UFO sceptics’ claims are wearing thin”, but the burden of proof doesn’t lie at the feet of sceptics, it’s with those who are making claims of visitations by ETs.  Perhaps we will be visited one day, or perhaps it will be us who visit life on other worlds.

Amusingly, Hallowell spent nearly the whole article telling us how sceptics are wrong to doubt that extra-terrestrials have visited Earth, but then finishes with an astonishing

Do UFOs hail from other planets, and are their occupants truly extraterrestrial? Or, could they instead be interdimensional and hail from an alternate dimension or parallel world?

Personally I plump for the latter idea…

That’s right, he lambasts sceptics for not believing in something he doesn’t believe in.

Equal love, equal marriage, equal rights

This Thursday sees the end of the Government’s consultation on equal civil marriage.  It seems bizarre that in the 21st Century UK we still have a marriage system where a part of society is banned from getting married.  Just by nature of sexual orientation, LGBT couples are unable to enjoy the same ceremony as heterosexual couples.  On the other hand, heterosexual couples are not permitted to have a civil partnership.

It’s ridiculous.

The proposals in the government’s consultation are a good step forward, but don’t go far enough.  The proposals specifically include an opt-out for religious bodies.  I’m not religious, but I can see that there will be some same-sex couples belonging to a religion who would like to hold their wedding in a place of worship, blessed and officiated by a member of the clergy, joined by all their friends.  As religious bodies carry out marriages on behalf of the state, essentially a secular function, they should also be expected to carry out marriages of same-sex couples.

Religious bodies like the Church of England have gone into overdrive, even going so far as to claim that gay couples getting married would somehow undermine marriage.  Such a position, defending the current marriage apartheid, comes from hate and bigotry, and should be resisted.

However, the Government’s consultation questionnaire is pretty good, and does include questions covering all aspects of the equal marriage debate, and also allows you to make a submission of up to about 200 words in support of your response. 

You can submit your response to the consultation online at the Home Office’s equal civil marriage consultation page.

For more information, you can go to Peter Tatchell’s Equal Love page.


Here’s a copy of my submission’s supporting comment:

As a supporter of equal rights for everyone, I believe that it is only fair and reasonable for all people, irrespective of gender, should expect and enjoy the same rights to:

– civil marriage (for both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships);
– civil partnership (for both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships);
– religious same-sex marriage, carried out in a place of worship.

Civil and religious marriages, and civil partnerships, should be open and available to all couples, through a law that is blind to the sexual orientation of couples, whilst respecting them at the same time.

As marriage is a state secular mechanism, it should also be established that any organisation carrying out marriages on behalf of the state, including religious ones,  should carry out same-sex marriages.  Whilst I understand that this may be problematic in terms of the belief systems of some religions, religious organisations should be made to allow those of their clergy who want to perform same-sex marriages to do so, and on their premises or place of worship.

There is no rational or just argument against establishing a modern system of marriage which reflects society and treats every citizen fairly.

Alpha – the new missionary position

If you’ve travelled by bus or Metro on Tyneside you can’t miss the posters advertising the Alpha Course, normally posing generic questions like ‘Is there more to life than this?’, or delivering bland feel-good phrases like ‘Life is worth exploring’.  In the run up to Christmas, they’ll be everywhere.  Despite the Alpha Course being a Christian missionary project, their posters rarely mention God, Christianity or Jesus.  I’ve always wondered by their advertising was so coy.

Over at the Atheism UK website, correspondent John Hunt has produced an excellent concise review of the current state of knowledge about the New Testament and the Jesus stories, and suggests that Alpha’s reluctance to mention the bible is down to the fact that the New Testament doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny.

Christian apologists debating the basis of their religion often point to the ‘historicity’ of Jesus and the brutality-lite New Testament account of his life.  But outside the scriptual accounts, it’s likely that Jesus is at most a construct of bolted together pre-existing myths, possible real or exaggerated accounts and even bare faced made up stories to fit in with – and expand – the legend of Jesus.

From the tales of King Arthur to Robin Hood, myth has played an important part in building cultural identity, but is ultimately an unreliable foundation for an evolving ethical framework.  As myths are retold it’s through the bias of the story teller, the perception filter of the listener and reflected in the mirror of zeitgeist.  They are also refined to either meet the tastes of a contemporary audience, or to provide a better story.  Sometimes, myths are remoulded to satisfy the demands of propaganda for political ends.

If the foundations of a belief structure are so shaky, how can anyone build an effective ethical ideology based upon a myth?

Start making sense

Skepticism as a method (that is, with a ‘k’ as opposed to a ‘c’) is not just a toolkit to assess and challenge unproven supernatural or paranormal propositions.  Every day we’re inundated with claims from manufacturers and retailers for products and services they say will make our lives better.  It’s not just the quack claims that we first think about, like homeopathy or crystal healing.  It’s things like training shoes specially designed to tone your calves, vibrating machines to strengthen your bones or wristbands to give you more energy.  It goes further.  What about that new policy your council has proposed, the voting pattern of your MP or your child’s school’s plans to change opening hours?

Being informed is not just the preserve of the skeptic, but the responsibility of every citizen, not just for our own benefit but for our friends, family and those vulnerable to the less scrupulous after the next quick buck.  If as citizens we aren’t informed, we’re not just risking being consumer victims to the unscrupulous claims of outrageous PR, but risking our democracy and our liberty.

One of the first questions to ask is devastatingly simple: Where’s the evidence?

You don’t need to be an expert.  Sense About Science has launched a useful guidance resource today to arm people with the necessary tools and advice to try and make sense of claims that seem to good to be true.

Start making sense here, now.

On the origin of specious arguments

Tonight’s Shields Gazette Wraithscape column about cryptids (anomalous or mythical animals) was an interesting overview of the various mythical humanoid cryptids like the Yeti or Bigfoot.  I’m sceptical of the existence of such creatures given the lack of real evidence, but I’m open to the possibility they may exist, especially as new species are discovered regularly, particularly in some of the more remote parts of our planet; the ancient rainforests, the deep ocean floors and the fringes of frozen wastes.  Such is the extraordinary diversity of life that evolution has bestowed upon our little blue and green spaceship.

However, Wraithscape author Mike Hallowell speculates that a supernatural force had a hand in it all.  He guesses that:

“despite their more human-like appearance, they’re probably apes of some kind and, yes, I tend to agree with the creationists that, rather support the theory of Darwinian evolution, their existence would tend to mitigate against it.”

That’s quite a proposition, especially without any explanation of why he thinks the (possible) existence of legendary cryptids is evidence against evolution, instead of say intervention by planet seeding extra-terrestrials in the manner of Mission to Mars.  I know the limitations of a newspaper column doesn’t allow much space for the development of a detailed argument, but as it stands, it seems like little more than the ill-informed idle speculation of someone who takes iron age religious texts over cold hard science.

In the face of the mountains of scientific evidence supporting the evolutionary model, a claim that a deity created creatures that haven’t even been proven to exist is preposterous.

If such mythical cryptids are found to exist, or have existed, science will tell us more about them and how they fit into our evolutionary development than a meandering religious fanstasy story.