Thursday, October 14, 2010

Equality and Human Rights Commission release first Triennial Report

Equality and Human Rights Commission release first Triennial Report

Posted: 13 Oct 2010 11:20 AM PDT

The BHA has commented on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Triennial Report, released this week. The report entitled, How Fair is Britain? is the first report to be released by the Commission under their legal duty to report to Parliament on the state of the nation’s equality every three years. The report includes several recommendations on how to increase equality in the UK using 40 indicators which test the life chances of people from different backgrounds. The BHA made a submission to the Commission’s call for evidence for the report in January 2010 which highlighted a number of issues relating to equality for non-religious people.

Pepper Harow, BHA Campaigns Officer commented, ‘Although we welcome the report as an important document on many equality issues facing society today, we are disappointed to see that non-religious people are not fully recognised within it. As well as ignoring the intrinsic inequalities written into the education system with ‘faith schools’ admissions policies and collective worship, the report fails to recognise the existence of non-religious people as a group within the religion or belief spectrum. Instead the report focuses on ‘religiously motivated’ bullying and ‘religious inequality’ rather than seeking to cover both religious and non-religious issues.

This is partly a symptom of a lack of reliable data on religion or belief with many statistics ignoring those who identify as non-religious as they are seen as a non-category. It is also true that many such studies, including the 2001 Census, underestimate the number of non-religious people by asking a leading question that causes people to answer through a vague sense of affiliation to a belief system, rather than answer on the basis of current belief or practice.

‘That the report recognises the gap in knowledge regarding religion or belief underlines the need for reliable data which lies at the centre of our current Census campaign.’

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Rescued miner sees the light: 10/13/10 atheist cartoon

Posted: 13 Oct 2010 09:00 AM PDT

Mr Smart and Heroman: Is belief in omniscience natural, or learned?

Posted: 13 Oct 2010 08:53 AM PDT

Let me introduce you to Mr Smart and Heroman. Mr Smart is really, really clever. So clever that he knows everything – like what’s inside a closed box. Heroman is not so smart, but he does have a special power. Heroman has x-ray vision, so that he can see into the closed box.

Here’s a picture of Mr Smart. He looks a bit like a lot of Professors I know.

Both Mr Smart and Heroman had a key role to play in a recent study by Jonathan Lane, of the University of Michigan, and colleagues, into how children come to understand magical beings.

There are basically two schools of thought on this. One is that they have to learn first about ordinary minds and then, building on that platform, they learn about extraordinary minds.

The other school holds that children are born with an inbuilt predisposition to think that all intelligent beings have god-like omniscience. They then have to learn that, sadly, their parents and their friends are in fact limited in what they know.

A leading proponent of this idea is the cognitive psychologist Justin Barrett. His studies of the beliefs of young children have shown that the youngest (aged 3) seem to intuitively believe that all people (and God) are omniscient – they know everything that the child knows. Older children (aged 5) have learned that Mum has her limitations.

The distinction is important. At stake is the issue of whether we are born with an innate predisposition to believe in an Abrahamic god. As Barrett explains:

…early-developing conceptual structures in children used to reason about God are not specifically for representing humans, and, in fact, actually facilitate the acquisition and use of many features of God concepts of the Abrahamic monotheisms (Barrett & Richert, 2003)

But perhaps it’s not that simple. Childhood development is a rapid, complex process. So Lane and colleagues set out to get a bit more granularity into the picture, by learning about the beliefs of children in the middle range, at around 4 years old.

The basic experiment is simple. The experimenter sits with the child and a box of crayons in a room. Except the box doesn’t really contain crayons. It’s got rocks in it instead.

The child knows that, because she’s been shown them. But then the box is closed up again. The question for the child is this: Who else will know what’s inside the box, if they come into the room?

Would another girl her age know? Would her mum know? What about Heroman and Mr Smart? What about God?

Well, the results change with age, and in a fascinating way. On the graph, higher scores mean that the individual concerned would guess (wrongly) that there are crayons in the box.

The youngest age group, just under 4 years old, mostly think that everyone – Mum, Mr Smart, and God – would know that the crayon box actually has rocks in it.

The middle group, around 4 and a half years old, are more likely to think that they would be fooled, and think (wrongly) that the box holds crayons.

The exception is Heroman. The 4.5-year olds reckon that Heroman could see into the box, and so know that it contains rocks.

The oldest group, around 6 years old, have pretty much all figured out that Mum and the girl would be fooled, but that Mr Smart, Heroman and God would not be.

Here’s what the researchers think is going on. The youngest children have what’s known as ‘reality bias’:

When asked about what other people know or believe, very young children tend to answer by simply assessing reality and using that information to infer others’ knowledge and belief.

The middle group, however, have developed enough to understand ignorance:

Soon after children develop an appreciation for the distinction between knowledge and ignorance, they begin to appreciate the distinction between reality and belief; they start to understand that others, misled by inaccurate perceptual cues or outdated information, can hold false beliefs.

Only Heroman is not ignorant, because only he can see inside the box.

The oldest children have also learned that some agents – gods and the like – have (or are supposed to have) superhuman knowledge.

Lane concludes that childhood development proceeds in the exact opposite direction to what Barrett proposes. Rather than intuitively understanding the idea of omniscience, children naturally understand all agents – people and magical beings – to be limited in the same way as the people they know.

Realism, in short, is natural. The idea of the supernatural has to be learned.

ResearchBlogging.orgLane JD, Wellman HM, & Evans EM (2010). Children’s understanding of ordinary and extraordinary minds. Child development, 81 (5), 1475-89 PMID: 20840235

Creative Commons LicenseThis article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

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BHA tells parliamentary committee: government’s education agenda poses threats and opportunities for human rights

Posted: 13 Oct 2010 08:45 AM PDT

The BHA has submitted formal evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) on the government’s forthcoming Education and Children Bill, concluding that some provisions may significantly undermine human rights, while others could enhance protection against discrimination.

The Bill will not be published until November but the JCHR invited submissions from interested groups on the significant human rights issues it is likely to raise. In its evidence the BHA warned that the government’s stated aim of making it easier to establish ‘faith’ schools, which can discriminate widely religious grounds, would infringe the rights of many thousands of pupils and staff. The scaling back of Ofsted’s role, and particularly its duty to assess schools’ contribution to community cohesion, was also highlighted as a cause for concern.

The BHA noted that as well as posing serious threats to human rights, the Bill also presents an opportunity to enhance protection against discrimination. The BHA recommended scrapping the law that forces schools to hold a daily act of collective worship and introducing an objective, impartial national syllabus for religious education and sex and relationships education.

BHA faith schools and education campaigns officer James Gray said ‘Our analysis confirms that the forthcoming education bill poses a significant threat to human rights. In particular, the government’s intention to make it easier to set up highly-discriminatory ‘faith’ schools risks violating the freedom of belief of thousands more children, parents and staff.’

‘However, if the political will is there the Bill could actually be used to significantly enhance human rights, by scrapping compulsory collective worship and introducing an entitlement to impartial teaching on religion and belief and sex and relationships. The government has a very clear choice – it can use this Bill to increase discrimination or introduce greater protections against it. We look forward to reading the Bill when it is published next month and submitting a more detailed response to the Committee.’

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American Humanist Association Announces 2011 Board Election Results

Posted: 13 Oct 2010 08:43 AM PDT

In accordance with American Humanist Association bylaws, the AHA Election Committee met on October 8, 2010, at the AHA’s national office in the Mary and Lloyd Morain Humanist Center to open and tally the ballots cast in the AHA Board of Directors election. There were seven candidates for six openings on the board. A total of 1,982 ballots were received.

Elected to four-year terms were: Jennifer Kalmanson, Howard Katz, Amanda Knief, Raul Martinez, Susan Sackett, and Jason Torpy. They will begin serving their terms on January 1, 2011. Continuing to serve on the board are: Lou Altman, Rob Boston, Rebecca Hale, David Niose, Herb Silverman, and Kristin Wintermute.

The Election Committee consisted of the following AHA members in good standing, none of whom are paid employees of the AHA: Mike Reid, Steve Lowe, Tony Hileman and Christopher Arntzen. The AHA thanks these individuals, as well as the members of the Nominations Committee—Mel Lipman, chair, Carl Coon, Amanda Metskas, Sue Reamer, and Warren Wolf—for volunteering their time for these important tasks, and wishes to recognize Nancy Martin, who also stood for election.

We also thank all members who participated in this election, continuing the AHA’s tradition of being the largest democratic humanist organization in the United States.

The next meeting of the board will be in Washington, D.C., on November 13, 2010, at the Carlyle Hotel from 1:00-5:00.Following that meeting the newly constituted board will elect its officers.

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Belief in God produces Hell on Earth

Posted: 13 Oct 2010 12:01 AM PDT

The evidence of what a belief-based society does to its citizens continues to show horrific results. Yet, the members of the religious right in the U.S. continue to push for it.

During last week’s Red Mass, the traditional church service that kicks off the Supreme Court’s session each year, Archbishop J. Augustine De Noia told the five court members in attendance that God should be their focus. A report on the service by Sandhya Bathija of Americans United records that Di Noia said “…the democratic state does not so much confer the most fundamental human rights and the duties of citizenship as acknowledge their existence and source in a power beyond the state, namely in God himself.” He also claimed democratic societies are in danger of adopting the view that “man can find happiness and freedom only apart from God.”

Even though Christianity has failed to produce a single harmonious, civil and peaceful society in the 2,000 years of its existence, Di Noia asserted that humanism is the problem. “This exclusive humanism has been exposed as an anti-humanism of the most radical kind. Man without God is not more free but surely in greater danger,” adding that “the eclipse of God leads not to greater human liberation but to the most dire human peril.”

It is humanism (and similar views of atheists, agnostics, secularists, etc.) that keep the forces of belief at bay. When believers take over a society, all hell breaks loose.

A recent example is outlined in a report from Leo Igwe from the International Humanist and Ethical Union concerning conditions in Malawi and other African nations. In this report, Igwe not only talks about conditions in general, but a specific case where five siblings threw themselves in a fire holding their Bibles (three immediately died). It is unclear exactly why, but there is a report that said that it may be in response to someone who “had cast a spell on the children that was making the men not to get jobs and the women not to get married.” (The link is here, but be warned: the page contains a graphic image of burned bodies.)

The report details Igwe’s take on the larger situation: “Poverty, ignorance, hopelessness and bad governance have driven many Africans to religious insanity, absurdity and extremism. Africa is literally in a dark age. There is a proliferation of churches, mosques and worship centers. Blind faith, thoughtlessness and spiritual mumbo jumbo direct people’s lives.” This is just a small portion of his report.

In Papua New Guinea a person who called himself “Black Jesus” was recently convicted of raping four girlsand claimed to have had sex with over 400, some as young as eight years old. Steven Tari was the leader of a sect with thousands of followers. This society is described as one “where superstition and sorcery remain powerful forces” and is “home to numerous sects and cults.”

Back in the U.S., a woman has been charged with attempted murderfor allegedly trying to kill her 9-month-old grandson because the “baby was the antichrist.”

Over at the Christian Broadcasting Network, host Kimberly Daniels has warned people that during Halloween, “most of the candy sold during this season has been dedicated and prayed over by witches,” adding, “Curses are sent through the tricks and treats of the innocent whether they get it by going door to door or by purchasing it from the local grocery store. The demons cannot tell the difference.”

In Colorado, a woman smashed an art display in order to destroy an image she was told was blasphemous. “How can you desecrate my Lord?” she reportedly said. Her attorney seems to be proud of her, saying, “Kathleen Folden is a woman of strong religious convictions and deep faith,” and trying to put the blame on the city of Loveland. “The focus should be changed,” he said. “Why would the city of Loveland have deliberately (allowed) such a provocative picture?”

Archbishop De Noia claiming humanism to be the problem is just the latest in the long-running saga of trying to get people to ignore the irrefutable evidence that belief is the direct cause of more human suffering than any other set of institutions we have created. It is the proximate cause of more suffering than can be calculated. For people to accept the view that belief is a virtue is to reject the obvious.

Related articles:

1.       Equality and Human Rights Commission release first Triennial Report

2.      Mr Smart and Heroman: Is belief in omniscience natural, or learned?

3.      Retribution attack costs father of human rights defender his eye



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