Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Strident atheists

An interesting comment popped up on my Twitter timeline in response to an article in The Guardian originally published on Monday. The Guardian piece argued, not very convincingly, that British fears about Islamists and Saudi fears of atheists are two sides of the same coin. Now this is a fairly typical Guardian Comment is Free piece and displays the lack of rigour in argument typical of the genre. However, I was interested by a comment tweeted in response to the piece by Douglas Murray in which he asked:
Can anyone name an atheist who has carried out a suicide bombing or beheaded someone in Saudi? Anyone?
The journalist David Aaronovitch, an atheist, whose writing I usually respect, wrote:
Sure atheists don't actually behead anyone, but you have to admit they can sometimes be a bit strident. 
Now this is a line that often gets trotted out by Richard Dawkins and his chums. 'Atheists are much less harmful that religious people. We might shout a bit from time to time, be a bit strident, but we don't harm anyone'. Except of course that isn't quite true. If you happen to be a Christian living in the self declared atheist state of North Korea you aren't just treated to a few harsh words, you are more than likely to end up in labour camp or worse. The intellectual western European atheist might argue that it is unfair to link his or her views with North Korea and suggest that those pesky North Koreans aren't really atheists anyway. It's the old Jedi mind trick 'These aren't the atheists you are looking for'. Fair enough but isn't this the same argument used by many religious people who argue that the worst manifestations of those claiming to be of their faith aren't really true believers. Consider, for example, the many Muslims who would denounce and reject the expression of Islam manifested by the IS in Syria and Iraq. Or consider the many Christians who would disown the nonsense regurgitated by the Westboro Baptist Church.

Some atheists are no more than a bit strident, not unlike some religious people. However, some atheists aren't averse to a spot of murder and mayhem, as anyone with even a basic grasp of political history knows, and pretending they weren't or aren't really atheists is frankly disingenuous.

Monday, 24 November 2014

No repsect

Yesterday I put up a post about a mark of respect between two international rugby union teams. Unfortunately over the weekend I also saw several incidents which left me feeling that some sports people have no respect for themselves, for their opponents or for their sport. Watching Match of the Day on Saturday night I was saddened but not surprised to witness several blatant acts of cheating.

First up was the highly lauded Everton and England youngster Ross Barkley. In the match against West Ham, Barklay took a blatant dive and was awarded a free kick much to the astonishment of just about everyone but the referee. Barklay's manager Martinez then defended the youngster by saying he wasn't a diver and 'expected contact' when he went down. If his manager isn't prepared to challenge Barklay's behaviour there is little hope he will cut this cheating out from his approach to the game.

In the same match there was a tussle between Everton's Kevin Mirallas and West Ham's James Tomkins. It ended with Mirallas pushing Tomkins in the chest only for Tomkins to hold his face and collapse as if struck in the face, usually a sending off offence. Here's that particular pathetic incident.

Just two examples of cheating to gain advantage and attempt to get an opponent punished in one match, and there were several other incidents in other Premier League games played the same day. It's hard to have respect for a game if the players can't even respect themselves.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


Occasionally I come across a picture that reminds me of what should lie at the heart of sport and this is one of them. The picture, published in several national newspapers, shows the England and Samoa rugby union players kneeling, linked together following yesterday's hard fought match. The picture speaks of mutual respect and a sense of camaraderie. It is a refreshing change as I have long feared that rugby union has been heading down the same road as football thanks to the impact of money on the game. It was also good to celebrate Ireland's victory over Australia yesterday and the result offers hope that the Boys in Green are on course to do well in the Six Nations and World Cup next year.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Front line hero

It only lasted a few moments each morning but it was one of the most powerful pieces of broadcasting I have heard in a long time. The BBC Radio 4 Today programme broadcast a daily audio diary by Dr Geraldine O'Hara, working for Medecins San Frontiers in Sierra Leone, at the heart of the Ebola outbreak. The impact of the broadcasts was aided by Dr O'Hara's straightforward style of delivery as she contained her emotions while recounting some heartbreaking situations. She is just one of many clinicians who have been prepared to put themselves on the front line of the battle to confront this terrible disease. I thank God for the courage and compassion of those people like Dr O'Hara who are prepared to risk so much to bring hope and healing amidst the despair in this part of West Africa.

You can hear Dr O'Hara's audio diary here.

Sunday, 16 November 2014


Every now and again the Christian corner of social media goes into meltdown over the singing of Stuart Townend's In Christ Alone. The line causing so much consternation is 'Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied'. I now have a much bigger problem with the song thanks to a family argument this evening. Over a heated debate about how wrath should be pronounced one of the family said it should be pronounced like Wrath of Khan - the best of the original Star Trek film franchise. So that's the song now ruined for me, I'll never be able to sing it again without thinking of Ricardo Montalban with a mullet haircut shouting:
He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition's Flames before I give him up!... Prepare to alter course.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

On earth as in the heavens

It seems a reasonable question and of course the answer is yes, there is a chance we could do something about this. The same technology that helps power Philae is readily available here on earth. Nearly every time I go into B&Q or my local garden centre there is a stack of solar powered lights in the discount section being offered at knock down prices, you can't give them away. The issue is not can we do something about the problem but will we do something about it? Are we prepared to invest the same commitment and resources that delivered Philae to 67P to addressing some of the basic needs in our world? Needs like clean water, basic sanitation, health care and renewable energy. Let's face it, it's not rocket science (or rocket surgery as one of the muppets on The Apprentice last night blurted out). 

Here's the link to Solar Aid

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Comet Watch

This afternoon a little spacecraft called Rosetta delivered probe Philae onto the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It is an extraordinary scientific endeavour and given the comet is some 300 million miles from earth the precision of the operation is astonishing. Even more astonishing is the fact that all this was accomplished without the presence of Professor Brian Cox telling us how amazing it all is.

However, news has begun to filter through that the two harpoons which were to be fired into the comet on landing in order to secure Philae to its surface haven't deployed. No doubt the boffins are hard at work trying to diagnose the problem and come up with a solution. I have a couple of suggestions.

First of all check that Big Bang Theory's Howard Wolowitz wasn't showing off to an undergraduate somewhere in the space centre. Howard has previous on this score with the Mars Exploration Rover.

Secondly, it may be that Philae detected on landing that 67P isn't really a comet but a Star Whale, hence the reluctance to fire the harpoons. In which case this is a job for Dr Who and let's face it he needs something decent to get his teeth into at the moment.

Anyway, I'm sure the geniuses at the European Space Agency will get things sorted given the brilliant job they've done so far. Now I wait for Nigel Farage to pop up on the BBC to explain how it would all have been so much better and cheaper if we'd done it without the rest of those pesky Europeans.