Narendra Dabholkar murdered for being a skeptic
I must confess I did not know who Narendra Dabholkar was, but I should have. Today I learned that this man was executed by assassins most likely because of his outspoken criticism of superstition in India. Dabholkar was at the forefront of a long-running campaign to ban superstitious religious practices by getting the state of Maharashtra to pass an anti black-magic bill. He died on Tuesday after being shot by two gunmen riding a motorcycle.
According to Michael Shermer on Twitter, he was the Indian equivalent of James Randi, offering 500,000 rupees (£5,000) to any spiritualist who could successfully summon spirits. The licence plate of the attackers was noted but as yet, nothing has been done. One wonders whether anything will in a country where superstitious practices are very prevalent.
Of course, we have had our own religiously motivated murders in the West so maybe we should not be too surprised. Still it is shocking, when someone is killed for simply asking those to verify their claims. This leads me back to consider activism against believers. I see that Dave Mabus has started up his activities again leaving his deranged comments here as well as emailing me and many other prominent skeptics again – BOOM… those who get the messages will get the joke. Still, how do we protect ourselves from the deluded who become dangerous. Dabholkar’s death reminds us not to become complacent.
UPDATE: We have just learned that there has been a call for a strike in protest at the killing. One hopes that this goes ahead.
New Update: It has just been announced that the Government has passed the anti-magic bill that Dabholkar had fought to get passed. I guess that is a comfort to those he left behind.
We have the census coming up this weekend in the UK where every household has to return information that gives a snapshot of the society. Included amongst the various demographics is the inevitable religion question. It is likely that there will be another increase in the percentage of “no religion” responses given the various polls indicating that the UK is moving towards greater secularity.
A paper just out has even mathematically modeled the decline of religion based on the census data from nine other countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland). The main author has concluded in a interview with the BBC that religion in these countries will become extinct, in the same way that indigenous languages die out when there is competition between different social groups.
No doubt this will be music to the ears of many but then, should we really be that surprised? The history of civilization is littered with the corpses of dead religions. The difference is that those deaths were at the hands of other religions whereas the modern era has science as an alternative way of viewing the universe. I hope so.
That said, there is no box on the census to address beliefs in supernatural phenomena which shows no signs of a decline with remarkable consistency over the past 20 years in the UK alone. I expect that many who tick the “no religion” box still have their beliefs.
At the danger of sounding like a broken record, religions come and go, but beliefs in supernatural possibilities are very stubborn. This is the SuperSense that religions have capitalized so well on over the centuries. It remains to be seen whether all religions will eventually go extinct – I strongly doubt it but I am pretty sure that beliefs in phenomena and forces, that have no evidential basis, will be with us so long as there are brains that are trip-wired to seeing significance where there is none.
I just found out that the British philosopher, AC Grayling has written an alternative good book that is due to be published in April this year. According to the blurb on Amazon,”The Good Book” offers a thoughtful, non-religious alternative to the many people who do not follow one of the world’s great religions. This should be an interesting read, “drawing on the wisdom of 2,500 years of contemplative non-religious writing on all that it means to be human – from the origins of the universe to small matters of courtesy and kindness in everyday life.”
You may have noticed that my postings have been short recently. I hope to be back to longer musings in the future but at the moment, I have a ton of work and a chest infection that I got at the beginning of Dec.:(
Last week, two Australian twins visiting Denver, went to the local shooting range to commit suicide. Kristin and Candice Hermeler (29) where seen smiling on video footage before shooting themselves in the head with .22 calibre handguns. Candice survived but her sister died at the scene.
The twins were clearly disturbed and had an obsession with the 1999 Columbine Massacre which took place not so far from the shooting range. You can read about the sad case here, but what I find remarkable was the Australian Heralds headline – “Suicide Twins Kristin and Candice Hermeler Had God Delusion in their Luggage.”
Clearly the implication was that the suicide was linked to reading Dawkins’ book. But what the article fails to give due weight to is that they also had a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment ” as well as a bunch of dreadful music CDs. I think, “The Very Best of Christopher Cross” is just as much a suitable candidate.
People commit suicide for all manner of reasons but I would have thought that atheism is far down on the list. In fact, one could argue that religion can be a motive as we know that belief in the afterlife is one of the incentives used to cajole suicide bombers.
Who put that bloody big rip in the sky?
It is a shame that these twins felt that suicide was worthy and worse that they decided to do it in public. The video released does not show the actual moment but there are others gathered around them at the range. I have always thought that this was an immensely selfish thing to do anyway for the traumatic impact that it leaves on others. When I read about the case, I was reminded of Adam Rutherford’s talk at TAM London about the Alpha Course. His opening slide was the image of the climber on the top of the mountain range asking more or less, “Is this all there is?” Adam replied, “Yes, and it’s fucking awesome.”
Somehow I think that people contemplating suicide, when they are perfectly healthy, need to stop looking inwards, but rather look at the fact that they are some of the luckiest people in the world. Of course, this is precisely the problem with suicide, but then, questioning the value of life without God, does not help.
Pregnant women often crave ice cream
I just had to post this item in time for the Pope’s visit to the UK tomorrow. I don’t get so upset by religion as many other atheists do, but then I guess I have always considered it such an obvious strawman when it comes to extremes of human belief – of course it’s made up. That said, I did guffaw when I heard that the British Advertising Standards Agency have just banned an advert that depicts a pregnant nun spooning into a pot of ice cream. The ASA said, “We considered the use of a nun pregnant through immaculate conception was likely to be seen as a distortion and mockery of the beliefs of Roman Catholics.” The funniest thing is that the company is the Italian ice cream producer, Antonio Federici, who had their last advert showing a nun and a priest flirting also banned. Apparently they have another of two priests about to share a kiss. According to a spokesperson, this campaign is meant to convey that “ice cream is our religion.” You simply must checkout their website – it’s hilarious.
If you have ever had any doubts about what religion you should adopt, help is at hand from the Holy Taco site who produce handy flowcharts to help you make up you mind. I got this one from the delightful Cristine Legare who shared this with me as we giggled through one of the more dry talks at the excellent Religion Explained meeting held over the past couple of days in Bristol.
Which Religion Should You Adopt?
Yesterday, Ariane Sherine revealed the final phase of the atheist bus campaign with the new billboard. The campaign, scheduled to coincide with the Universal Children’s Day (Nov 20th), draws attention to Richard Dawkin’s point that some adults readily label children in terms of their religious background. The point of the campaign is to not label children at all, but rather allow them to come up with their own beliefs – and that includes atheism as well. Ariane says, “I hope this poster campaign will encourage the government, media and public to see children as individuals, free to make their own choices, and accord them the liberty and respect they deserve.”
I met Ariane in London last month at the Amazing Meeting where she really made me feel embarrassed. I went up and introduced myself to which she immediately replied, “Oh yes, I remember you, Bruce. You did the pervy thought for the day blog!” Well, she didn’t say ‘pervy’ but I felt so as I remembered making a double entendre comment on her picture I used in the post which has her posed in a rather seductive manner. Anyway, she is delightful – though she never signed my copy of her edited book, “The Atheists Guide to Christmas.” Oh well, I got an invite to the book launch in London so maybe I can make ammends then.
Well, Who Would Have Thought???
One of the most important books to influence me becoming a behavioural scientist was “The Selfish Gene” written 25 years ago. Today I finally got to meet the author who changed my worldview. It’s not the first time I have been in the same room as Richard Dawkins. About 10 years ago, I shared a train carriage with him but he was so caught up in working on a manuscript and I was so star-struck that I didn’t have the nerve to introduce myself, and say what exactly?
As many of you know, my work has often been contrasted with Richard Dawkins and simpletons often misunderstand what I am saying as contrary to his meme thesis. However, today it was quite clear that we are singing from the same hymn sheet. We had a great discussion about essentialism before his co-presentation with his wife, Lalla Ward (Yes, that’s right… Hammer Horror film actress and side -kick of Tom Baker’s Dr. Who). Children’s essentialism was raised again by a question from the audience (thank you for that Thalia of course!) where he discussed Ernst Mayr’s proposal that psychological essentialism was a fundamental obstacle in human reasoning when it came to understanding natural selection. Music to my ears of course.
He has a signed copy of SuperSense and promised to start reading it tonight. I even think he might! What a day to remember.
The Guardian reported that Britain’s largest food chain, Tesco’s had been accused of religious discrimination following an incident where Daniel Jones, founder of the religion Jediism was ejected from a store in Bangor, North Wales for failing to remove his Jedi hood. The 23-year-old Jones who founded the religion based on the Star War movies said that he felt humilated and victimized and is considering legal action against Tesco’s.
He has a point. Over 400,000 people listed Jediism as their religion on the 2001 UK census making it more popular as a religion than Scientology. However, Tesco’s hit back saying that Jones, also known by his Jedi name, “Morda Hehol,” had not been banned and that “Jedis are very welcome to shop in our stores although we would ask them to remove their hoods…Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood…If Jedi walk around our stores with their hoods on, they’ll miss lots of special offers.”
I guess followers of alternative religion, Great Spaghetti Monster in the Sky, would also be directed to aisle 5 where there is currently a special offer on pasta.
UPDATE: As @kateweb has pointed out on Twitter, I may have to support Morda Hehol’s action against Tesco as the store did not specify which Hoods were banned.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I thought that I would make my point though the comic genius of others.
I would add that I don’t agree with everything John Cleese says, as he has made a number of errors about deterministic and probabilistic processes. But genes do build brains and ultimately cultures so the issue is graded rather than categorical. See my earlier blog about genes for language as opposed to genes for Shakespeare. But yes there is no gene for preferring Nicholas Cage movies or coconut ice-cream.