Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Model Answers to Homoeopathy Survey

There is a survey on homoeopathy at:

Here are some suggested answers:

* 4. Do you think Homeopaths should be allowed to explain how Homeopathy works?

Very poorly phrased survey question; it makes the assumption that homoeopathy works which, of course, it doesn't! If something doesn't work, it is impossible to explain "how it works" without lying. I acknowledge that this does not necessarily present a moral dilemma for all homoeopaths.

* 5. If you visited a Homeopaths website, would you find it useful or not useful to know which conditions they can treat?
Given that the scientific evidence is that homoeopathy is no more effective than a placebo, and placebos can, in similar circumstances, treat almost anything, this would be entirely useless information. It would also be misleading.

* 6. Do you think testimonials giving details of improvement from genuine patients should be not allowed or allowed?
If homoeopaths want to be taken seriously, they should advertise only the results of objective peer-reviewed randomised double-blinded trials of their magic sugar pills, not some entirely unscientific subjective "testimonial".

* 7. Why do you think Homeopaths are being treated in this way?
So that the public is less likely to be misled by the deceptions of well-meaning but self-delusional ignoramuses or unscrupulous charlatans. Take your pick: EITHER they are medical practitioners and must be treated the same way as proper medical practitioners and provide proper evidence OR they are charlatans.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Adults With Imaginary Friends Are Stupid

Inspired by the excellent work of Crispian Jago, I present my own meagre offering:

census campaign poster

(NB: This poster is NOT approved by the BHA Census Campaign)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Don't Call Me an Atheist!

There are thousands of irrational things I don't believe: I don't believe the world was created by magic unicorns. I don't believe that murder should be the first recourse for resolving a dispute. I don't believe that only males between the ages of 7 and 14 should receive education. I could go on ... and on ... but, to save boring you, I shall list only one more: I don't believe in any form of deity. So why do so many people think that it is either rational or acceptable to define me by the last of these things?

One of the more insidious trappings of apartheid in South Africa or the One Drop Rule in the United States was the arbitrary classification of humanity into "whites" and "non-whites". The definition of one race in terms of another is itself racist: these terms assume that "white" is the norm against which other racial attributes are measured. It demeans dark-skinned people by euphemising a characteristic they have and defining that characteristic in terms of what it is not. We don't call homosexual people "non-heterosexual" (or heterosexual people "non-homosexual").

An "atheist" is, by definition, a "non-theist", a person who does not believe in deities. Like to the race and sexuality examples above, it defines us in terms of what we are not and ignores what we are. It makes the assumption that some form of theism or religion is the norm against which we should be measured. It is similarly insidious.

I'm not referred to as a "non-murderer" or a "non-discriminatory-educator" (even though they are true), so why should I be referred to as a "non-theist". I'm a humanist, I'm a secular rationalist -- refer to me by those positive things, by things I choose for myself, not by my lack of credulity for superstitious mythology!

Yes, this is important. The coming census will not ask me to define my position in terms of a belief in magical unicorns or a position on the education of males. Quite correctly, there will not be a loaded question: "What kind of murder do you commit?" with response options of subspecies (genocide, uxoricide, drive-by shooting, etc.) and "non-murderer", but there will be one that asks: "What is your religion?" with response options of subspecies and "no religion". The unspoken assumption from this question, entirely unencumbered by such inconvenient things as contrary evidence, is that religion is the norm.

Every time we permit others to define us in terms of religion, by getting us to respond to loaded questions or calling us "atheists", we are playing into their hands by allowing them, instead of accepting us for what we are, to pass off their irrational superstition as the norm. It isn't.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Anti-Christian Discrimination? What a load of Bull!

Peter and Hazelmary Bull, the Christian B&B owners who refused to let a homosexual couple share a bed in their B&B, have decided to appeal against the judgement that declared that they should pay damages to the two men they offended. The appeal is reportedly being funded by a fundamentalist Christian organisation.

Christians in Britain claim that they are being discriminated against. If they are, this case does not support that thesis: the law does not allow the people with any religious affiliation (or with no religious affiliation) to behave in the bigoted way the Bulls did. To be treated, in the eyes of the law, exactly the same way everybody else is treated, is not discrimination.

On 2011 Jan 26, the BBC programme, The Moral Maze, addressed another aspect of this issue. Many Several contributors seemed to suggest that religious principles are being subverted by laws that prohibit discrimination against protected groups. This is entirely incorrect. To take the Bulls' case as an example, nobody has compelled them to run a B&B. It is illogical in the extreme to choose an occupation if the laws that govern it do not permit you to exercise your own particular brand of bigotry. The Bulls chose to sell a service; like the sellers of any other service, they have to abide by all the laws that govern that service. To permit them to contravene those laws because they believe a particular species of superstitious irrationality would, in effect, be discriminatory against anyone who does not share that belief.

Christians in this country have a 2000 year history of holding a privileged position under the law; they have enjoyed two millennia of positive discrimination. Now that this discrimination is being (too gradually) eroded, they bleat that they are being discriminated against. This is both false and illogical. There is no argument that does not involve special pleading by which any religion should hold privileges that are not granted to the followers of any other hobby or irrational superstition. Yet the Christians in this country have 26 seats reserved for them in the legislature (the only other country with reserved seats for clerics is Iran), do not pay council tax on the (publicly funded) buildings where they gather to exercise their superstition, have publicly funded schools where they can inculcate the young with their weird superstitions, and can force local residents to pay for the upkeep of those buildings.

Discriminated against? What a load of Bull!