Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Humanist group leaders meet for 2010 day conference


Humanist group leaders meet for 2010 day conference

Posted: 30 Nov 2010 06:32 PM PST

Representatives from dozens of local humanist groups, all affiliated to the British Humanist Association, met this weekend in Birmingham. The Group Representatives’ Annual Meeting (GRAM) is held each year, with opportunities for humanist leaders to share ideas, learn best practice and network.

This year the programme for GRAM included talks on running a public course on Humanism, delivering effective group communications, providing a voice in the local community, and running local campaigns on issues such as ‘faith’ schools.

Brian Quinn, a regional representative on the BHA Local Development Project, explained how millions of pounds have been diverted to ‘faith’ groups in recent years, variously labelled as ‘community’, ‘interfaith’ or ‘faith advisers’ funding, and how he was working through several networks and bodies in the Yorkshire and Humber region to carry the otherwise entirely neglected non-religious voice. Rosemary Taylorson and Jeremy Rodell of South West London Humanists gave a detailed presentation on their group’s effective and high profile local campaign against a new state-funded ‘faith’ school. Rob Grinter of Manchester Humanists spoke about the very successful public course on Humanism run by his group, and now being rolled out by the BHA to groups across England and Wales.

Bob Churchill, Head of Membership and Promotion at the BHA, said ‘The groups network is very important. Sometimes running a local group means providing a way for humanists to come together in discussion about ethical and philosophical topics, and anything of broad interest to humanists. Sometimes – as with South West London Humanists’ recent campaign on a proposed new ‘faith’ school in their area, or Devonshire Humanists’ tireless challenging of local council prayers – groups provide an important focus point for activism and can have real impact on the course of events.’


There are 97 local, student and special interest humanist groups affiliated to the British Humanist Association. See our Groups pages for more information.

For further comment or information, contact Bob Churchill on 020 7079 3586.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity representing and supporting the non-religious and campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion or belief.

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Can a divinely-inspired book contain errors?

Posted: 30 Nov 2010 02:45 PM PST

Yesterday lunchtime I walked into the city centre to buy a sandwich. Outside the sandwich kiosk there stood a street preacher whose booming bellows left no-one in any doubt that he believed that the Bible is the Word of God.

But if the Bible contains clear errors, can it really be divinely inspired?

Let’s start with two seemingly innocuous facts from the Bible: Bats are a type of bird (Leviticus 11:13-19) and the mustard seed is the smallest seed on Earth (Mark 4:31). Both statements are so inaccurate that they could have come out of the mouth of Sarah Palin.

Yet when difficult biblical texts like these are pointed out, some Christians are prepared to defend them by engaging in eye-watering logical contortions.

For example, the Gospels tell us that when Jesus was born, Quirinius was governor of Syria and Herod was king (Luke 2:1-2, Matthew 2). Yet we now know that there was no governor of Syria called Quirinius during Herod’s reign. According to one Bible commentary, the explanation is that Quirinius was an army general at the time and that being a general was “equal to” being a governor!

It’s no surprise that many Christians refuse to indulge in such nonsense. Instead, they resort to one of the arguments which the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry’s (CARM) website makes when discussing the Bible’s description of bats as a type of bird. It says: “The Bible is not meant to be a scientific description of modern biological categories. Instead, it is often written from the perspective of what we see.”

What this means is that if the Bible gets its facts wrong about the world or about nature, Christians can resort that it isn’t meant to be a science book. Yet, curiously that doesn’t stop many of them relying upon scripture to trump what science has to tell us about matters such as evolution and the big bang.

On my laptop is a half-formed article about the historical difficulties posed by several biblical stories. Yet the article isn’t nearly as half-baked as the explanation given by many religious scholars who have spotted the same problems. They respond that the Bible isn’t intended to be a history book, but rather it’s concerned with spiritual and moral matters.

And so, the Bible is apparently neither a science book nor a history book. What is it then?

I will illustrate the next Christian response by summarizing what the Bible tells us about the world. It makes it clear that our planet is:

§ Orbited by the sun (Psalm 19:6, Ecclesiastes 1:5)

§ Flat (Isaiah 24:1 (KJV), Daniel 4:11, Isaiah 40:22)

§ Long (Job 11:9)

§ Supported by pillars (1 Samuel 2:8) and

§ Stationary (Psalms 93:1, 96:10, 104:5 and 1 Chronicles 16:30)

And so it’s hardly a surprise that many Christians argue that these passages must have been intended poetically or symbolically.

There are some parts of the Bible which are clearly intended to be poetry such as the Psalms and the Songs of Solomon, and they should be treated as such. But even then, poetry which is based on a misunderstanding of the world is surely unlikely to have been divinely inspired.

Let’s consider the biblical indications that the Earth is orbited by the sun. If you want to know whether those passages were intended to be poetic, just consider what the Church did when Galileo published his proof that it was Earth which orbited the sun. The Christian church united in condemning him for heresy, and the Roman Catholic Church even placed him under house arrest.

Of course, the reason why the Bible contains blatant misstatements about the world is because when it was written, most people thought like that – which is strong evidence of the bible’s human authorship. For the same reason Christians know that if they can prove that the Bible contains statements which were contrary to contemporary opinion but were later proven to be true, that could be an indication of divine authorship. After all, if the Bible is God’s Word, it should bulging with these truths.

They claim they’ve found one.

Isaiah 40:22 describes God as: “He that sitteth upon the circle of the Earth”. Christians argue that Isaiah’s writings must have been divinely inspired because, as we now know, the world is indeed a sphere!

Isaiah doesn’t describe the world as a sphere but as a circle. A circle is two-dimensional whereas a sphere is three-dimensional. Many Christians would retort that the passage must be symbolic: It may describe the world as a circle, but it’s a poetic reference to a sphere.

The entire Bible can probably be proven to be true if you invest its contents with poeticism and ascribe meanings flagrantly contrary to what it says.

It can’t be proven that any particular verse wasn’t meant symbolically. Yet the Bible’s uniform description of the world over the course of several passages is that it has the features which I’ve mentioned above . . . features everyone believed in at the time. Crucially, there isn’t a single verse which goes the other way. And so to believe that every passage which paints this picture is to be read poetically is surely a case of wishful thinking.

Besides, let’s imagine what would happen if the situation were the other way about. What if the Bible had stated that the world was a spherical-shaped object which orbited the sun? Would Christians respond by saying, “Oh well, the Bible isn’t a science book. The passage is merely poetic – it probably meant to say that the world is flat and still”?

Many believers don’t try to prove that the whole Bible is literally or even poetically true. Instead they say that spiritual truth is what matters. So long as the Bible unlocks spiritual truths and morals, the occasional factual error is irrelevant: It is still the Word of God.

But would God really have inspired the Bible writers while allowing them to pen passages which he knew were mistaken? Surely the more likely explanation for errors is that the Bible is the product of fallible human authorship.

In that case, it’s difficult to see why we should believe that it contains any spiritual truth whatsoever . . . as I fully intend to explain when I next go out to buy a sandwich.

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New secular resources on web

Posted: 29 Nov 2010 10:20 PM PST

While cruising the Web, I have run across some new secular resources — new to me, anyway. Here’s a quick rundown:

Parents Beyond Belief blog. Brought to you by Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers, the blog offers an opportunity to discuss parenting ideas and network with similarly-minded parents. Articles are contributed from members of a broad range of secular-minded parents groups.

WooMap: Started by a Swedish skeptic, this specialized Google map documents the name, nature, and location of businesses profiting from “woo” — that is, pseudoscience and related scams. It’s open to anyone to edit, so you can add the woomeisters in your backyard. The crystal shop where they claim a quartz crystal can heal cancer? The Reiki practitioner who sends her “healing energy” over the Internet? Mark away!

Charlie’s Playhouse: Charlie who? Charlie Darwin, of course! Charlie’s Playhouse features “evolution toys” geared toward young kids — a poster, a playmat, a card game, and a flip book. Yes, these folks are selling stuff. No, we don’t get a cut. They do offer free resources as well, including a bibliography of children’s books on evolution, a blog, the “Ask the Kids Project“, and a variety of evolution links for kids and links for parents and teachers.

Real Bible Stories: A slowly-developing site, Real Bible Stories tells those familiar (and not-so-familiar) Bible stories without the children’s-book whitewash — as written in the Bible, warts and all — adding questions and commentary to spur critical thought about the stories and the “morals” presented in the Bible. (I’ve been familiar with it for some time, and even mentioned it about a year back, so it’s not exactly “new” . . . but ‘Sister Shirlee’ seems to have come out of stasis in the last month or so and begun writing again.)

Have you seen other resources that you’d like us to call attention to? Drop a note via the contact form or leave a comment below!

Related articles:

1. Bible Stories Get Real

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