Tag Archives: religion

From the annals of scepticism

Putting the ‘cred’ into ‘credulity’.

In this morning’s post, I forgot to mention the recent survey which claimed that China was the most atheist country in the world. If this was some measure of how enlightened the place was, then there might be something to celebrate, but I wonder whether the wrong question was being asked. Also, there’s a difference between being an atheist and being sceptical about a whole range of beliefs.

For one thing, there was no shortage of people making offerings to the idols in 雍和宫 in Beijing, or 青羊宫 and 大慈 in Chengdu even if, I believe, they tend to pray for very modern things. There’s no shortage of churches in Fuzhou or people to attend them, and there are plenty of temples to native deities as well.

Although there are native Chinese gods, I’m not aware of them being organised per se. Buddhism and Daoism got thrown into the pot, and like the Roman Empire, China seems to have been fairly pluralistic. I know there were phases when the Bu­ddh­ists or Daoists were predominant, and one side or the other was persona non gratia. The situation was, I presume, different from the schism between the Cath­ol­ic and Protestant churches in Europe, and no one here ever thought that their religion should be imposed on others whether they were willing or not.


The investigation

Preaching what you practise.
When I got to school this morning, Row informed me that they were checking up on us to see whether we were preaching. I wondered where this had come from, but Linda had no details. “The school,” she said. I can’t imagine that any of the foreign teachers here are likely to be rocking the boat. Besides, the guy from Sri Lanka is a Buddhist. Thus I don’t know if this ordinance affects the city, the province, or the whole country.
I can only guess that some foreign teachers somewhere went a little beyond their remit, whereupon it was discovered that evangelicals had been coming to China disguised as cynical, hard-bitten EFL teachers. Nah, that can hardly be news. I worked alongside one for my first two years in China, and I’ve seen one or two blogs, written by Americans, where pious platitudes are mentioned in a fashion so casual that an uninitiated reader would think such utterances are perfectly normal.
Ironically, for a country which is nominally secular, the temples and churches in China see a lot more traffic than they would in Europe. The only people praying at the Catholic cathedral in Tianjin were the Chinese themselves. On more than a few occasions, kids in my classes have mentioned “the God” [sic] in their writing, though I’m never really certain quite which god they mean. Also, I note that Chinese people are far more superstitious than you might expect from a nation with such an obsession about science. But it would be wrong to assume that science leads to rationality: just look at Michael Faraday or, more recently, Michael Reiss (Times article).
In many respects, China resembles the Roman Empire before the darkness of Christianity extinguished the light of toleration for a range of religious beliefs. Like the Roman Empire, the imperium sericum is only tolerant within reason, although the Chinese should be grateful that there was never a Constantine.

Cross my palm with silver

The MOD goes into fortune telling.

Revolution, flashmobs, and brain chips. A grim vision of the future is an article about the MOD’s prediction of how the world will be thirty years from now (by which time, at the present rate, Green Bamboo will’ve had about 155,000 hits). Some of it sounds like the usual sort of thing – part­icle beam weapons; cyberisation of the body (“We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. resistance is futile.”); anarchy; etc. –, but it turns out that I’m going to be a revolutionary:

“The world’s middle classes might unite, using access to knowledge, resources and skills to shape transnational processes in their own class interest”.

But who exactly is middle class these days, and do we have to include the lower middle class in this?

This is interesting, but once again shows a failure to understand China pro­perly:

Tension between the Islamic world and the west will remain, and may increasingly be targeted at China “whose new-found materialism, economic vibrancy, and institutionalised atheism, will be an anathema to orthodox Islam”.

As I’ve said before, there’s a lot more religion here than you might think. Even if the government is officially atheist, large numbers of people aren’t. Han Chinese Muslims are not, to the best of my knowledge, any more of a danger to the country than the rest of the population. There might be problems in Xinjiang, but I suspect government policy will result in that being largely stifled by overwhelming the indigenous population with set­tlers.

[14.08.14. While there is rumbling in Xinjiang at the moment, the rise of the currently tentacle-like Islamic State is also setting off alarm bells in China because the Empire is allegedly in their sights, too. The Party will no doubt look for a solution through repression.]

So many an idle bone

But Pagans never deviate into Sense.

Never let it be said that rationality ever had anything to do with religion. According to the story Give us back our bones, pagans tell museums, pagans are asking for bones and relics from pre-Christian sites to be returned to them because the presence of these items in museums is “an affront to their religion”.

Well, if Christians can’t get opt outs on adoption laws, then why should pagans expect to be treated any differently? Once again, some religious group seems to think that secular society should make a special exception for it.

“We would like people to reconsider their relationship with the bones,” said Paul Davies, reburial officer for the council. “We view them as living people and therefore they have rights as people. Because the ancestors can’t give their consent in this way, the council speaks for the ancestors.”

I assume that Davies doesn’t mean that each bone is a living person, but rather the skeleton. (Sorry, cheap shot.) Nonetheless, the bones are a.) dead; and b.) still dead no matter how hard you want it to be otherwise. I’m sure the gravedigger in Hamlet would ensure that Davies would be speaking by the card and ready to undo his equivocation. If you ancestry is Anglo-Saxon or Celtic, claims on bones can only go back so far, before which no one in modern Britain can have any claim at all.

Holger Schutkowski argues

“What would be lost is quite simply the only direct source material we have to find out about people in the past. There is nothing more direct than the human remains,” said Holger Schutkowski at Bradford University, who is head of the British Association for Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology. “There is no evidence that today’s pagan groups have any direct and uninterrupted linkage with belief systems in the past … So I think it is an unjustified claim.”
Some scientists say modern pagan groups have no right to represent the bones. “They would like to see themselves in a position where they can represent prehistorical remains in Britain, but this is just not the case. They are actually not speaking for anybody,” said Prof Schutkowski.


His [Schutkowski’s] view is far from universal. Some in the museum community say it is unfair for scientists to impose their world view on pagans. “We think that there is actually an intellectual argument for pagan claims to be taken seriously,” said Prof Bienkowski [deputy directory of the Manchester Museum], “It is a different world view which, actually, like the scientific world view can be neither proved nor disproved. It is actually our responsibility to take those views into account.” What right, he asks, do scientists have to speak for the bones either?

It’s all still boiling down to the same thing. A religious group seems to think that it holds some sort of privileged position in society to which the rest of us ought to accede.

A busy week

In the world of atheism.

The theme of The Guardian’s commentisfree section this week seems to have been topics circling around religion and atheism which have attracted large numbers of comments. The ones about religion came in for a ham­mering, particularly Richard Buggs’ Intelligent design is a science, not a faith. Well – Dick – you’re 50% right. ID isn’t a faith. A.C. Grayling wrote an article (Cruel faith) that was a response to the rather limp protests against sexual discrimination laws that were discussed in Parliament this week. Mark Vernon talked some veritable nonsense about this in Calm your outrage. Actually, it could be a bit embarrassing for homophobic atheists to find that they’re in the same boat as the fundamentalists. I can just imagine the love.

Dave Hill not only opened his mouth in Hate the sin, not the sinner, but the way he swallowed his feet suggested that he actually had six to eight of them. You unnatural freak, sir.

The contempt shown by liberals like Polly Toynbee and AC Grayling for all religious sentiment sounds as blinkered as the bigots they berate.

Patently untrue. Richard Dawkins may be a bit virulent, but most atheists aren’t out to see the wilful and deliberate destruction of religion, though we have no issues with it withering and dying, and being excluded from interfering in the secular world where it doesn’t belong.

Gareth McLean had something a little more intelligent to say on this subject in Discrimination beyond belief.

Meanwhile, I find I missed this story about evidence for the passage of modern humans into Europe being pushed back another 5000 years.

Whoops, vicar, there goes the country!

The danger of religion.

A poll reported in today’s Guardian says that 82% of Britons think religion causes more harm than good. Another finding was that non-believers outnumber believers almost two to one.

But a spokesman for the Church of England denied yesterday that mainstream religion was the source of tension. He also insisted that the “impression of secularism in this country is overrated”.

He could be right, but this is wishful thinking as the numbers in the quote below reveal. The alleged importance of the Church of England is derived from tradition rather than from its actual importance in modern society.

I was wondering what effect it might have on an election campaign if the leader of one of the main parties were to declare quite candidly that he was an atheist. Or what would happen if, for example, Prince William were to say that he doesn’t believe. Of course, that’d mean that the next king after Jug Ears would be Harry “Spliff” Windsor. I know that surveys in the States show that atheists seem to be held in the same regard as child molesters, and when I once ran across the website of the American Atheists’ Society (or Association; I forget which), I was astounded that there was such a thing.

However, I think the Vicar of Dribbley manages to shoot himself nicely in the foot when he says

“You also have to bear in mind how society has changed. It is more difficult to go to church now than it was. Communities are displaced, people work longer hours – it’s harder to fit it in. It doesn’t alter the fact that the Church of England will get 1 million people in church every Sunday, which is larger than any other gathering in the country.”

This sounds like desperation; and as for 1 million people, that’s a sixtieth of the population. Not exactly an encouraging statistic, vicar. You also have to remember that most surveys show that congregations tend to be composed of the elderly. The church may dwindle away to nothingness because successive generations have even fewer and fewer believers.

Another question that comes to mind is how many younger believers are merely Sunday Christians. That is, they’re thoroughly secular during the week and go to church on Sundays. Of course, that means they’re having to fit into a predominantly secular society in which the role of the church is, in reality, a minor one.

The Right Rev Bishop Dunn, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, added: “The perception that faith is a cause of division can often be because faith is misused for other uses and other agendas.”

I’m inclined to view the excuse that faith is misused as a bunch of nonsense, because the people who are misusing faith (i.e., Muslims – ‘cos that’s who the bishop means) believe that their actions are divinely inspired. From a third-party perspective, Islam is misused; but the beardies don’t think so. Leo III was divinely inspired and the Crusades probably did more damage to relations between Europe and the Middle East than any other event in their history. In other words, Bishop Dunn is merely thinking of the here and now, not the there and then.

I wonder what sort of results such a poll would get in other Western European countries. I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed that, once again, Britain has more in common with its European neighbours than it does with the Fundamentalist People’s Republic of Ameristan, Ayatollah Dubya presiding.

Undeserved status

Neither theory nor science.

It appears that Ironia has been busy again after my comments last week on creationism in connection with the IELTS class, and after Green Bamboo was returned as a search result for this term the next day.

Creationism is rearing its unscientific head in schools in the UK according to this article in The Guardian. Several of the statements in the article are making creationism and intelligent design sound like scientific theories, albeit slightly left field –

PR packs spread controversial theory
“neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories”
“Neither intelligent design nor creationism are recognised scientific theories and they are not included in the science curriculum.”

While I understand the general thrust of the second and third statements, they imply that at some level creationism and intelligent design are scientific theories, but they have no official support. The statement should be something like “Neither intelligent design nor creationism are scientific theories and are not part of  the science curriculum”.

As for the first statement, the keyword there is “theory”. Why? Well, it’s because creationism and intelligent design assume that the hand of the God of the Christians is behind evolution and that aspects of religious belief can be science. But a theory is an idea that we try to prove through research and gradually refine as we attempt to approach the truth. The problem for the creationists is that their so-called theory makes them sound like agnostics because any good theory has an implicit element of doubt. The creationists shouldn’t have any doubt, because if they doubt they’re questioning the word and will of God. And the Pope isn’t going to like that.

A critique of the Theory of Evolution wouldn’t hurt, but not when there’s an ulterior, unscientific motive behind it.

Fortunately, the article includes this comment by Lewis Wolpert.

But leading scientists argue that ID is not science because it invokes super­natural causes. “There is just no evidence for intelligent design, it is pure religion and has nothing to do with science. It should be banned from science classes,” said Lewis Wolpert, a developmental biologist at the University of London and vice-president of the British Humanist Association.

Actually, I think I ought to have the IELTS class read the article. It’ll be good practice for them. Does Uncle Angel have an ulterior motive? Perish the thought. As if I would. I mean, what sort of devious scoundrel d’you think I am? [Do you really want us to answer that? –ed.]