Scottish Government Gumption (or lack thereof)

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The Scottish Secular Society’s petition calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to issue official guidance on the presentation in Scottish publicly funded schools of separate creation and of Young Earth doctrines as viable alternatives to the established science of evolution, common descent, and deep time.

I sincerely hope that the committee members are sufficiently well read on the issues that played out so publicly in the United States, most notably in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District case. Assuming that this is the case, there can be no doubt in your collective minds that separate creation, young earth doctrines and (with regard to Kitzmiller) Intelligent Design (ID) are in no way viable alternatives to the mechanisms science currently proposes.

Separate creationism and young earth doctrines fly in the face of common sense as well as attempting to undermine the entire corpus of human knowledge and our understanding of reality. In simple terms, these views are those of charlatans or simpletons.

You should also be aware that ID is a cynically remarketed version of creationism albeit with the designer remaining unnamed. An often cited quip is that Intelligent Design is “nothing more than creationism in a cheap tuxedo”. 

This indeed, was what Judge John Jones III in the Kitzmiller case surmised when he stated that:-

“we conclude that the religious nature of ID would be readily apparent to an objective observer, adult or child. “ 

“A significant aspect of the IDM [intelligent design movement] is that despite Defendants’ protestations to the contrary, it describes ID as a religious argument. In that vein, the writings of leading ID proponents reveal that the designer postulated by their argument is the God of Christianity.” 

“The evidence at trial demonstrates that ID is nothing less than the progeny of creationism.” 

“The overwhelming evidence at trial established that ID is a religious view, a mere re-labeling of creationism, and not a scientific theory. “

In his ruling, Jones also found that ID failed on a number of different levels, any one of which would have been sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science or a viable alternative explanation to current theories.

Firstly, Jones said that ID breaches the fundamental methodological naturalism inherent in the pursuit of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation. Secondly, that the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID, employed the same flawed and illogical contrivances that doomed creation science in the 1980s. Thirdly, that ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been extensively refuted by the scientific community.

He also pointed out that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific community, that it had not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor had it been the subject of testing and research.

For my own part, I would add that Intelligent Design (and for that matter separate creation) offers no plausible mechanism as an alternative. Indeed it does not offer ANY mechanism, far less a plausible one. It merely says – this looks designed, therefore it was designed and this implies the existence of a designer. Crucially, Jones found that Intelligent Design amounted to a pretext for the real purpose, which was to promote religion in the public school classroom.

Indeed this is what the Scottish Secular Society also perceives in the various appearances (or possibility thereof) of creationism and ID in the Scottish Classroom.

This petition has been raised of course because the current Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has consistently refused to commit himself on the matter, stating rather that such decisions be left to the discretion of a Head Teacher. Such a lack of concern and inactivity on the matter beggars belief given the furore which erupted over the issuing of creationist material at Kirktonholme Primary School in East Kilbride. This incident clearly demonstrated that head teachers could NOT be depended upon to prevent such material reaching children. The issue was dealt with quite simply south of the border by Michael Gove MP and there is no rational explanation why Scotland could not have followed suit.

One can only speculate on this refusal to act. Could it be that, despite Kirktonholme, the Cabinet Secretary really believes that the discretion of head teachers is to be trusted or is it that he doesn’t wish to upset religious supporters? Can he really view this as an isolated incident when organisations like C4ID, People With A Mission Ministries (PWAMM) and the increasingly bizarre future Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, Reverend David Robertson are waiting in the wings to foist these stultifying beliefs upon children?

The views of charlatans or simpletons are bad enough but tacit acceptance of the status quo by government in full knowledge of the potential consequences is intellectually indefensible and a blatant dereliction of duty of care to the nation’s children.

If the Public Petition’s Committee is to retain any credibility it must make very plain to government that it can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. It must have the gumption to speak plainly against such stupidity. It must address this issue now and rule clearly that promotion of religious views as science is unacceptable.

 

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An Unjust Termination

Birth itself is a political act. Political acts like a country attaining rightful independence is much like a birth.
Birth itself is a political act. Political acts – like a country attaining rightful independence – are much like a birth.

I wrote the following piece in the days preceding the Scottish Independence referendum on 18th September 2014. I had hope that Scotland would have learned the lessons of its past and rejected its toxic union with England. Sadly, thanks to the unconvinced elderly and ideological unionists, that was not to be.

We may have failed this time around but we achieved something almost as good. The hegemony of Westminster politics is now irrevocably damaged. A huge number of Scots are now politically aware and motivated to become involved in future campaigns. In the forthcoming general election there are two possible outcomes regarding the Labour party in Scotland. If all the YES voters come out and vote SNP the Labour in Scotland will be all but over. The only way this will not happen is if the remainder of the electorate come out and vote as well. So either we have a massive SNP majority, which bodes well for a repeat referendum on independence sooner than we had hoped, or we have another huge turnout (probably greater than 80%). That is a win-win situation for lovers of democracy.

Peroration to an Unborn Child

I am expecting a baby. My neighbour, also a white middle-aged male, is expecting a baby. His partner, a white middle-aged female is also expecting. Their kid is expecting too and he isn’t even in his teens. The thing is the whole nation is expecting. Young or old, black or white, Christian, Muslim or atheist, it seems that everyone awaits a newborn. For the child that is to be born will be called Scotland.

The gestation has been long and troubled. Every trimester has seen morning sickness that would break the constitution of the most hardened of fellows. Each morning the cynical conniving father delivers predictions of economic calamity designed to worry and emotionally depress the mother into a bloody and crippling miscarriage. He tells her that the child will never come to anything. He will be malformed. Never will he be allowed at the world’s top tables. He will never have his own money. He will be a runt. Too small and too stupid. Never a member of exclusive clubs or polite society. Never a contender. A basket case.

The conception was arguably an early 18th century rape. The father forced his unwanted advances upon the bride at a time when she was at her most vulnerable and he bribed and cajoled his way into her bed. What is deeply ironic is that the impending birth, if, citizens, we allow it, will see a child who will stand tall and sturdy and outshine the father.

This bride’s only rewards for yielding to forced union have been scraps from the table in a draughty, creaking mansion long since fallen into disrepair. The wallpaper is faded and peeling, the window-panes cracked. Once high battlements have fallen and lie bewildered in the un-weeded vegetable plot. And yet the father continues to urge her to stay on. Is it for appearances sake? Is it for the sake of the child? Or is it because it is he who craves the warmth she selflessly provides at no charge?

No matter this abusive father. The child will himself one day be a father. And given our cares, a far better one.

It will be an anxious time. The birth will be bloody and painful. As citizen parents we will cut the cord. When he is born we must care for him like a child. With love and compassion. We will nurse him, clean him, clothe him and tenderly care for him. In time he will be weaned and take his first faltering steps in the world and we will be there, together as one, to pick him up when he falls. We will watch him go to school, grow in confidence and ability. We will see him learning fast and encourage in him a constant striving, seeking and yearning for the knowledge of life that pushes him, and us, inexorably towards a better, more just future. We will give him what wisdom we have in the hope that he will gift it to generations in the future. A future that is the child’s future alone. Not the mother’s, nor that of the forceful father.

This birthing, future citizens, this momentous and emotionally charged event in the re-emergence, nay the rebirth, of a nation is in fact a declaration that ultimate responsibility lies in its citizens. As citizens we must nurture in that child the ambitions and values that we as Scots aspire to and hold dear. We must shape the child so that he lives peacefully with his neighbours. So that his kindness and generosity has more value than the coins in his pocket. So that he himself will come to the aid of those fallen on hard times. So that he makes alliances rather than war. So that he does not squander his resources as his father did before him. So that one day he rises and begets a new generation freed from the shackles of a bygone era.

This very germ of an idea, for those who dared to dream, is a recognition in the minds of a few, that we Scots, a bastard mongrel race with an identity distinct from that of our neighbour cousins should forever be able to forge our own future.

If we choose to, we can live alongside our neighbours, separately yet in harmony. We need build no fences between us. We can still share some of our pearls and pay our just dues. We can cooperate on many matters and yet disagree without upset. Even when our vigour is evident, when we are again strong in heart and mind we can still be kindly to our once abusive father, and often say to him that old acquaintance never should be forgotten – always ought to be brought to mind. After all, this is effectively what we said when together we stood side by side to keep the world free from Teutonic tyranny. In time we will forgive him and when the respect that is due from him is forthcoming we will say to him,

And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!

Let the process begin, citizens. Let the waters break. Bring on the first signs. Bring the towels and hot water. Call the midwife. Vote yes and let this child, this future of all possibles be born.

On Morality

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An apologist asks “Why are we obliged to regard our moral sense as authoritative?” and claims that the inability of atheists to answer this question is link in an argument for God’s existence.

It is not entirely clear exactly what is meant here in the first sentence but first of all one has to ask – do we really regard our moral sense as authoritative? Are we obliged?

I suppose the initial visceral response is yes. When we make a moral choice without thinking too hard about it we may indeed be acting on an a sense that our moral position is authoritative – that we choose the right path and we know the right way to act. But after a short time contemplating any individual situation that one might find morally challenging, it is very, very clear that we do not always leave it to gut instinct. Sometimes we feel the need to analyse the situation and measure it against what we initially believed to be the correct course of action. Often the situation is clear cut. Just as often probably there is ambiguity and the choice of possible actions is difficult. Perhaps we just haven’t considered the scenario before. How can our moral sense be authoritative if we have to consider the particulars?

Once rational thought is applied to a situation, we can come at moral dilemmas from many different angles. We can approach matters in a utilitarian frame of mind. Which course of action permits the best outcomes for the most people? Sometimes – often I would suggest – we weight that in our own favour or in the favour of our kin or even just individuals we have some relationship with. Often we compromise ethically. I would suggest that in many of these “difficult” cases, if we have a non-atypical set of moral values, we find some confusion with the choice we want to make but we rationalise our way out of the situation. We perhaps argue our way to the choice that the selfish part of our nature wants us to make. This difficulty is a kind of cognitive dissonance. Probably not the same type as that experienced by those who find themselves confused by conflicts between science and religion, but dissonance none-the-less.

Some of us have rationally made declarations to ourselves of our moral position on various hypothetical situations. Generally I would not take a life but in certain circumstances I would. Generally I would not steal but again in certain circumstances I would. (It would be very easy to think of examples for yourself when you would do the same so I wont bother.) Does my choice of actions in those particular cases make it right to do so in all general cases? Of course not. Why is this the case? Well because each situation is different and each of us will rationalise a choice, contrary to the commonly held morally correct position, in a different way or to a different degree. Some of you may think that killing in self-defence is fine but euthanasia is not. Some of you may agree with abortion. Others may not. It seems to me that there is generally a scale from extreme to extreme. There will be the individual who feels sick at the thought of standing on a beetle through to those who happily will kill a fellow human who merely gets in their way. But I think it reasonable to assume that the vast majority of us will be situated somewhere in the middle of the distribution curve and of course there will be certain matters in an individual’s thought processes which do not logically conform to the notional position in the spectrum where the rest of their positions reside.

But it is very clear from the difficulty that the vast majority of people have with hard moral choices, that they are indeed questioning their own moral authority. Who amongst us finds moral dilemma’s easy to come to a decision on? I feel certain this demonstrates we are not obliged to regard our moral sense as authoritative. We may do so. We may not. We may feel somehow we are. But the very fact that we have these difficulties shows that our internal moral compass is not authoritative.
This question answered, the claim that atheists are unable to answer this is therefore refuted.

If this is a link in the argument for god’s existence then that link is also refuted.

It is however a non-sequitur. Even if atheists are unable to explain why there is or isnt an authoritative moral sense this sheds no light upon god’s existence. Perhaps it can be argued even that the existence of a morality whose aspects are entirely human (which is demonstrably the case) actually points to god’s non-existence.

In summary, we are not obliged to regard our moral sense as authoritative. We may or we may not but nothing obliges us to.