Friday, December 3, 2010

NASA's arsenic-based life discovery a catalyst for theological debate

Anti-choice campaigners respond to Health White Paper with a ‘campaign of misinformation and propaganda’

Posted: 02 Dec 2010 03:05 PM PST

In response to the new Public Health White Paper, ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People’, a hardline anti-abortion group has said it will target pregnant women who are considering terminations by ‘intensifying’ its distribution of anti-abortion literature to GPs. By contrast, the British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed this aspect of the White Paper, describing its commitment to guarantee access to sexual health and family planning services as ‘vital’, and has criticized the renewed anti-choice campaign by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC).

The White Paper states:
‘We will work towards an integrated model of service delivery to allow easy access to confidential, non-judgemental sexual health services (including sexually transmitted infections, contraception, abortion, health promotion and prevention)’ para. 3.43.

In a press statement SPUC said: ‘In recent months SPUC has been sending information to GPs, briefing them about the reality and dangers of abortion, so they can in turn inform their patients who are pregnant and who may be considering abortion. SPUC will now intensify that campaign in the light of the government’s proposal.’

The announcement comes less than a week after the Times Educational Supplement (TES) reported that SPUC has significantly expanded its schools programme in recent months. The investigation revealed that SPUC’s classroom presentations contained graphic images and false information about the effects of abortion.

Other religious groups have also been critical of the White Paper. The Catholic Education Service of England and Wales (CESEW) has said it will ‘be seeking firm reassurances from the Government that their intention to increase young people’s access to ‘health services’ will not place an expectation on Catholic schools to promote abortion or other activities that would be contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church.’

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips commented: ‘It is vital that women with unwanted pregnancies have timely access to accurate, objective information about all their options and can access free, safe and legal abortions if that is their choice. It is also vital that people can access health services easily and without fear of criticism or comments about their lifestyles. The commitment by government to ensure access to non-judgemental sexual health and family planning services, including abortion, is a step in the right direction and we welcome these provisions.’

‘Unfortunately, it is no surprise that anti-choice lobbyists will be trying their hardest to oppose these sensible and crucial measures. The campaign of misinformation and propaganda is likely to be stepped up and it is more important than ever for those who support objective education and women’s autonomy – religious and non-religious – to make their voices heard.

Related articles:

1.       BHA: anti-abortion ‘myth and propaganda’ must be kept out of the classroom

2.      Fight Freedom of Choice Act!

3.      Debate on abortion should be about education, not religion

NASA’s arsenic-based life discovery a catalyst for theological debate

Posted: 02 Dec 2010 02:50 PM PST

Mono Lake, California

The American Humanist Association responded today to the news from NASA that a new form of life has been discovered that apparently evolved outside the scope of all previously discovered life on earth.

Researchers in Mono Lake, California have discovered the first known organism on Earth able to live and reproduce using arsenic, as opposed to phosphorus. Phosphorus, a chemical element within DNA and RNA, was considered an essential component to all living cells. This discovery will open new doors in a multitude of scientific fields, including evolution. The AHA pointed to the discovery as something that gives rise to philosophical and theological questioning, adding that this is likely to lead to greater skepticism of established, revelation-based religion.

“The polite thing to say is that discoveries such as this don’t really impeach the credibility of established religion, but in truth of course they really do,” said David Niose, President of the American Humanist Association. “The fact that life can spring forth in this way from nature, taken in context with what else we’ve learned in recent centuries about space and time, surely makes it less plausible that the human animal is the specially favored creation of all-powerful, all-knowing divinity.”

Humanism is a philosophy that approaches life from a natural standpoint, deriving truth not from ancient texts or claimed revelation but from ordinary observation, rational thinking, logic, and empiricism. While appreciating the emotional, artistic and the creative aspects of life, humanists reject supernatural explanations, often putting them at odds with conservative religion.

“It’s unlikely that this discovery will change the minds of those who insist on a literal interpretation of the Bible,” Niose said. “To them, the world is about 6,000 years old and evolution is a hoax, and no amount of scientific evidence will change that. For the rest of us, however, this discovery is indeed profound, and it adds to the mountains of evidence that already point to the humanistic lifestance as being our best hope.”

“This break-through not only offers the promise of a deeper understanding of Earth,” said American Humanist Association President Roy Speckhardt, “but it also poses a question to those doubtful of the world’s scientific origins: as science moves forward, shedding light on what religion masks in darkness, how can ignorance remain without sacrificing discovery, innovation, and most of all, a better world?”

For more information on NASA’s discovery, have a look HERE. In part:

What a team of scientists actually found, as described in a paper in Science, is what may be the oddest bacteria on Earth. These microbes live in hellish conditions in Mono Lake, a super-salty, alkaline, arsenic-rich body of water in eastern California that would be toxic to most organisms. But the new bug doesn’t just thrive here: it uses arsenic in place of the standard phosphorus as a building block for its internal proteins and even its DNA — and nothing like that has ever been seen before.

Related articles:

1.       The origin of life: No god required?

2.      WorldNetDaily Poll: Is Noah's Ark discovery real?

3.      Ex-colleague: Noah's Ark discovery a hoax

Stay: 12/2/10 Atheist Cartoon

Posted: 02 Dec 2010 02:39 PM PST

Important inquiry into assisted dying is launched

Posted: 02 Dec 2010 02:28 PM PST

As a Bill seeking to reform the law on assisted dying in Scotland falls in the Scottish Parliament, a new Commission on Assisted Dying was launched in London. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has said that the defeated Bill provided ‘invaluable’ opportunities, and has welcomed a formal inquiry into the issue of assisted dying.

Whether to legalise assisted dying is a devolved matter, meaning that if the law were to change in Scotland, that would not mean legal change to the rest of the UK.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips said, ‘Although it is disappointing that the Scottish Parliament has voted against a reform in the law on assisted dying, the defeat was not wholly unexpected at this stage. The process, however, of Margo MacDonald’s Bill provided excellent and invaluable opportunities to scrutinise the ethical and legal bases for a future change to the law, as well as to show the wide public support for a Bill on End of Life Assistance to be debated in the Parliament.’

Ms Phillips continued, ‘Earlier this year the BHA joined calls for an independent inquiry into assisted dying, to examine the evidence relating to a change in the law, to help towards evidence-based policy making on this sensitive issue. We very much welcome the launch of a new Commission and inquiry into assisted dying and look forward to contributing to its work over the coming months.’

Related articles:

1.       BHA comments on think-tank’s assisted suicide report

2.      Judgment in mercy killing case demonstrates need for legal reform

3.      Center for Inquiry announces “Free Expression” video contest

Right wing cherry-picks from Pentagon DADT report

Posted: 01 Dec 2010 09:33 PM PST

In the face of media coverage trumpeting the overwhelming indifference demonstrated in the Pentagon’s troop survey over gay soldiers serving openly — the first time of which I’m aware that the military put Americans’ civil rights up to a “gee, how do you feel about it” vote — right-wing commentators are cherry-picking and purposely misinterpreting statistics to show that combat units are particularly horrified at the idea of knowing that a fellow servicemember isn’t heterosexual.

Before we discuss those who twist statistics until they squeal, let’s look at those who openly complain that allowing gay people to serve without lying will infringe upon religious liberty:

More than 60 chaplains signed a letter to Obama and Gates, urging them not to overturn the policy. The letter warned that reversing it not only will affect religious liberty but could even impact military readiness and troop levels because the military would be marginalizing “deeply held” religious beliefs.

“Marginalizing a large group of chaplains … will unavoidably harm readiness by diminishing morale,” the chaplains’ letter stated. “Similarly, making orthodox Christians — both chaplains and servicemen — into second-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines whose sincerely held religious beliefs are comparable to racism cannot help recruitment or retention.”

Doubtless, the irony of their complaint against a policy currently making non-heterosexuals into second-class Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, or Marines is lost upon these men and women of God.

Unsurprisingly, the statistics cited by the Secretary of Defense conflict with those trumpeted by SPLC-designated anti-gay hate group Family Research Council and the sex-obsessed, pro-DADT Center for Security Policy.

What did they say?

“There was nothing in that report that showed a single benefit to the military in terms of readiness, recruiting, retention,” Elaine Donnelly, president [and apparent sole employee] of the Center for Military Readiness, said at a Dec. 1 news conference sponsored by the Family Research Council. She also said that Gates and Mullen had “tried but failed to divert attention from information buried in the report.”

For instance, 59 percent of Marines who have been in combat and 44 percent of all personnel who have been in combat said having openly homosexuals in a field environment or at sea would have a negative effect on their unit’s “effectiveness at completing its mission.”

Among those in the Marine combat arms and Army combat arms, 57 percent and 47 percent, respectively, said having an openly homosexual person would negatively impact “how service members in your immediate unit work together to get the job done.”

Page six of the report, in contrast, points out:

Though the survey results demonstrate a solid majority of the overall U.S. military who predict mixed, positive or no effect in the event of repeal, these percentages are lower, and the percentage of those who predict negative effects are higher, in combat arms units. For example, in response to question 68a, while the percentage of the overall U.S. military that predicts negative or very negative effects on their unit’s ability to “work together to get the job done” is 30%, the percentage is 43% for the Marine Corps, 48% within Army combat arms units, and 58% within Marine combat arms units.

Acknowledging a possible issue? Could be. But wait . . . the next paragraph:

However, while a higher percentage of Service members in warfighting units predict negative effects of repeal, the percentage distinctions between warfighting units and the entire military are almost non-existent when asked about the actual experience of serving in a unit with someone believed to be gay. For example, when those in the overall military were asked about the experience of working with someone they believed to be gay or lesbian, 92% stated that their unit’s “ability to work together,” was “very good, “good” or “neither good nor poor.” Meanwhile, in response to the same question, the percentage is 89% for those in Army combat arms units and 84% for those in Marine combat arms units–all very high percentages. Anecdotally, we heard much the same. As one special operations force warfighter told us, “We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He’s big, he’s mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay.”

That’s right. Asking servicemembers who had not knowingly served with a gay servicemember what might happen or how they might react got prejudice-based predictions of disaster . . . while servicemembers who had served with someone they thought to be gay overwhelmingly reported no difficulties as a result in real life experience.

Reminds me of the child who has never tried broccoli screaming how she hates it more than liver, or Brussels sprouts, or being dunked in boiling oil . . . then finds that broccoli is actually good, or at least not bad, and certainly far better than the boiling oil.

What’s that? You want to read this report for yourself?

It’s available in full HERE.

Something largely glossed over in the recent statistics-flinging is the response of chaplains interviewed in the course of the study. While only three of the 145 chaplains who joined the study’s focus groups said they would quit the military, there were plenty who demonstrated their Godly love as they openly refused to aid any homosexual soldier in any way:

In the course of our review, we heard some chaplains condemn in the strongest possible terms homosexuality as a sin and an abomination, and inform us that they would refuse to in any way support, comfort, or assist someone they knew to be homosexual.

In related news, even some conservatives are cheering the report. Blogger Noah Kristula-Green at the Frum Forum comments:

One striking aspect of the Pentagon’s recently released study on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) are the similarities it has to Judge Walker’s ruling which struck down Proposition 8 in California. While the documents deal with different topics they both make the same fundamental point: the barriers that prevent homosexuals from partaking in the same activities heterosexuals do are ultimately artificial and without rational basis.

He goes on to make a very logical point:

There is no reason why an openly gay service member should want to let their sexuality be an issue in their job performance. What incentive do they have to be a source of discord?

Good question, Noah.

Related articles:

1.       Pentagon Poll: Most US soldiers don’t object to gay servicemembers

2.      In Brief: Southern Baptists Convention fighting 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal

3.      Equality and Human Rights Commission release first Triennial Report



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