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BBC Focus magazine's letter of the month

I have just purchased the February issue of the BBC Focus magazine, which I normally consider a lovely read and a valuable source of interesting current scientific topics.

I had to stop at this month's "letter of the month", as reading it made my blood boil, and made me realise how far there is still to go in the matter of correcting distorted views of what atheism means and the ever-flourishing business of appeasing half-baked "spiritual"/"religious" views of the universe (the classical "I'm an atheist, but..." position).

The editors, instead of trying to correct the misconceptions shown by the author, go a long way in bending over backwards to appease him and placate him, even going as far as awarding his ignorant and childish rant with the Letter of the Month award! Their response is extremely apologetic, almost as though they felt the need to say sorry for having "pushed science" in a scientific magazine. Gracefully completing their bend-over backwards arc, the editors assertively reassure the author that they didn't mean to "advocate atheism" and hurry to award him the Letter of the Month prize as though this idiotic individual somehow deserved compensation for having had his feelings hurt.

Here is the letter in question, by Keith Atkin from Sheffield, and the editors' unjustifiably apologetic response to him:

Title: A rational response

The title of Helen Pilcher's piece, 'Tis the season to be jolly rational, in the December issue (p. 91), is disappointing and could even be interpreted as insulting to those non-atheistic scientists among us. There is, in any case, nothing rational about the smart alec posture of atheism, which is after all just another dogma - in this case, the dogma of scientism. I am personally against all forms of dogma, whether religious or scientific, and should like to point out that there are many distinguished, rational scientists (list available on request), who do not claim that science has all the answers and who have ably defended the view that there is a non-material, spiritual dimension to the Universe. Robin Ince's show Nine Lessons And Carols For Godless People is just another example of the childish and arrogant materialism put about these days by Richard Dawkins and his ilk. These people do a disservice to both science and humanity.

The editors' response

Plenty of religious activities take place in December and we merely wanted to showcase something different - popular science, in the form of a hugely successful stage show. That doesn't mean we're advocating atheism, and to prove it I'm giving you our Letter of the Month prize! - Ed.

It's hard to imagine how any more misconceptions and errors about science, atheism and the scientific method could be crammed into such a short text. And the fact that views like these not only go unchallenged, but are actively appeased, really makes me think how long there is still to go in educating the general public on such burning issues. This person sounds like Deepak Chopra when he reviewed the Magic of Reality, and needs to be put paid to in the same way in which PZ Myers so masterfully did in that case.

Is it too much for me to dream that Richard may consider writing to Focus magazine about this? I think it would be very important to bring to the readers of Focus magazine's attention how many errors that unfairly lauded letter contains.

UPDATE - BBC Focus magazine's online discussion forum contains a topic on this matter and I was pleased to see that many readers get it! Still, what I said above holds.



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