Introducing David Rand’s Blog

David Rand, the president of Atheist Freethinkers, has started a personal blog entitled David Rand’s Blog. Rand’s first post is “Introduction” which sets out the main themes he wishes to explore and why he has chosen them:

The principal — but not necessarily exclusive — theme of my personal blog will be atheism and the struggle against religious obscurantism, because these are the issues that interest me the most, as well as concerns directly related to these issues such as secularism, freethought, critical thinking, rationalism, scepticism, humanism, etc. In particular, I expect to devote much of my attention to exposing and criticizing atheophobia in its myriad forms.

Rand concludes his first post with a summary of  “the basic underpinnings of [his] point of view,” so read Rand’s “Introduction,” and introduce yourself by leaving a comment.

Jerry Coyne in Toronto – Faith vs. Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible

Yesterday evening, I attended, Jerry Coyne’s talk, Faith Vs Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) Auditorium in Toronto. This speaking engagement addresses, at a higher level, the content of Jerry’s latest book of the same name. The talk was very well attended with the auditorium full of approximately 140 people, all who seemed to arrive early! I will provide a brief synopsis of the talk below.

Jerry Coyne During Q&A at OISE

Jerry Coyne During Q&A at OISE

After defining “science”, “religion” and “compatible”, Jerry dispels the claim that science and religion deal with different subjects. Although many embraced Stephen Jay Gould’s “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) when he introduced it in his book, Rock of Ages, his claim that religion addresses “meanings and values” and science the “factual character of the natural world” is demonstrably false, for the field of secular ethics has addressed “meanings and values” since Ancient Greece and by the admission of theologians themselves, religions make truth claims about the natural world: Christ rose from the dead, we go to heaven or hell after death, there is an omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent force that looks over us, and wine and bread turn into the body and blood of Christ every Sunday during Catholic mass.

Of course, religion’s toolkit of revelation, faith and dogma is outdated and inferior to science’s toolkit of the scientific method of testability, predictability, falsifiability (i.e.: the scientific method) as evidenced by the success of our modern world where our lifespans have doubled in a short period of time, thanks to science.

What stood out most for me in Jerry’s talk were the statistics:

  • 72% of Americans believe in miracles while only 64% believe in life after death (yes, 64% is high for the general population but it surprised me that more would believe in miracles than the afterlife given that the afterlife is a big part of Christian theology)
  • 64% of Americans would reject a scientific fact that contravened their faith (I was more cynical and thought the percentage would be closer to 100%)
  • 68% of Americans believe in angels

The talk was interesting and positive but there was one sad part in the form of the Awake cover from 1994 that depicted all the Jehovah Witness children who died for refusing blood transfusions. Jerry presented this as a striking reminder of the damage religion does.

Questions from the audience were good ones:

  • A young woman asked if science is atheistic or agnostic. Jerry sees science as weakly atheistic since agnosticism seems to suggest that there is a 50/50 possibility of something being true when that is rarely the case.
  • A brave fellow from Bangladesh recounted all his colleagues murdered by Islamic extremists and asked if it was worth fighting the good fight for secularism in Bangladesh. Jerry thought that putting yourself in danger would not serve secularism very well and he would be better off helping the secular cause from in a safer country (I agree!).
  • A CFI member asked Jerry to debunk “irreducible complexity” for a Christian friend (I won’t go into Jerry’s very good answer here but you can read about it on Jerry’s site, WEIT.
  • One of the final questions was What would be the big scientific breakthrough that would convince religious people to abandon their faith? Jerry wasn’t too optimistic that anything would break the religious spell (see statistics above for those who prefer to reject a scientific fact if it contravened their faith) since evolution hadn’t done so. He suggested that finding life no other planets might change a few minds but most likely people would simply adjust their religion to accommodate the scientific fact as they’ve always done.

Overall, it was a fun evening with an informed audience (happily devoid of any religious proselytizers posing as question askers).

Praying in the Park

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Photo by Lance Anderson Peterborough This Week

I’d like to thank Indi for his post on the Angus Reid Institute opinion poll “Prayer in Canadian Public Life: a Nation Divided.” I wasn’t contacted by Angus Reid, but if I had been, I would have answered the question on the best way to begin municipal council meetings by opting for “Nothing-just start the meeting.”

In 2011, I began to work toward convincing Peterborough City Council to obey the law and stop reciting the Lord’s Prayer at the start of council meetings. I was successful, and on June 3, Secular Ontario released the following announcement:

Peterborough Ontario Resident Wins Prayer Case against City of Peterborough

Secular Ontario, a non-profit corporation formed to promote and defend the secular and civil nature of Ontario society, is pleased to announce that the legal proceedings between Peterborough resident Veronica Abbass and the City of Peterborough have been successfully resolved in Ms. Abbass’s favour.

On May 29, 2015, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice issued the following order:

The Respondent (Corporation of the City of Peterborough) is prohibited from reciting the Lord’s Prayer or any other prayer at its council or committee meetings.

Ms Abbass is pleased with the result. “The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has reinforced the message that the rule of law applies to mayors and municipal councillors,” she says.

Some Peterborough residents and city councillors are unhappy with the SCC decision, but the council complied.

Monday evening (April 20) marked the first time in years (and possibly decades) that Peterborough city councillors didn’t open a municipal meeting with the Lord’s Prayer.

The prayer was listed on the agenda for the Committee of the Whole, but councillors aren’t reciting it until the City’s legal staff can determine whether it’s against the law, according to Councillor Andrew Beamer, who chairs the Committee of the Whole.

However, on the day the City received the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision, this item appeared on the Peterborough City Council Agenda:

City Solicitor and Director of Legal Services
Report OCS15-004
Amendment To Chapter 16 Procedure – Lord’s Prayer
A report to recommend a change to Chapter 16 of the City of Peterborough Municipal Code, the Procedure By-law.

The recommendation, with a few minor corrections, was discussed and accepted by all but one member of the council:

“16.8.7            Opening of Meeting and National Anthem – commencement of meeting

The Council meeting shall commence with the following wording led read by the Chair:

The Council for the City of Peterborough recognizes the principles contained in our Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that enshrine rights and freedoms for all.

We also acknowledge that our Constitution provides that Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.

We will now take 30 seconds to silently reflect on these principles.

Following silent reflection, the National Anthem will be sung.”

By reciting this passage, Peterborough City Council is thumbing its nose at the SCC and the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

In addition, a small portion of Peterborough residents are gathering in Confederation Square across from Peterborough City Hall praying for the mayor and councillors:

It wasn’t a protest, they said: just a gathering of people across all Christian denominations who want to pray for city leaders. They’re motivated by the fact that the Supreme Court has recently prohibited the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer before municipal meetings. . . . It’s not a one-off . . . people intend to gather and pray before city council meetings at about 6 p.m. (not committee or planning meetings) over the summer.

Pray

Personal photo

I attended the June 8 council meeting where despite a couple resident appeals against including the sentence,

“We also acknowledge that our Constitution provides that Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”

were presented, the Amendment To Chapter 16 Procedure was passed. I am sorry to report that the word God will be part of the formal opening of Peterborough City Council: the opening of meeting and the National Anthem.

Saudi Supreme Court Upheld Raif Badawi’s Sentence

Amnesty International Canada has published an update on the petition entitled “Mr. Rob Nicholson: Protect Raif Badawi from further whippings and do everything you can to secure his freedom”:

Jun 7, 2015 — The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia upheld the sentence of Raif Badawi to 10 years of prison, 1000 lashes, etc.
Ask Canada to do more!

If you have not signed Amnesty International’s petition to Canada’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rob Nicholson, please sign it now at

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