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Comments by brian thomson

Go to: Richard Dawkins Has a Point, Your Eminence!

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 10 by brian thomson

The article ends with a remark about the "Springtime of Vatican II". Considering that Vatican II was well over 40 years ago, how long until Summer? Or will there be a Vatican III in the Autumn, at which the Cardinals, in reaction to the unfitness of Catholicism for the real world, rationalise their religion out of existence entirely? Not that it would matter, I suppose: it would be just another example of how "sophisticated theologians" such as Cardinal Pell, W.L. Craig, M. Bunting, and so on are distanced from the beliefs of the "common or garden" believer.

Fri, 27 Apr 2012 13:49:32 UTC | #937720

Go to: Update 9-March - Kony details via Boing Boing -Stuff to hear and watch

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by brian thomson

There are some serious questions about the origins of that Kony video. Even the normally uncritical Guardian is asking questions. There isn't much disagreement about the evilness of the Lord's Resistance Army, but that doesn't automatically translate to "send in the US Marines". There are some key words to listen out for, such as "advisors" (meaning the CIA).

Thu, 08 Mar 2012 23:00:01 UTC | #925488

Go to: Thousands demonstrate in Maldives over Islamic law

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by brian thomson

Good to see they have their priorities in order, eh? They're going to lose 80% of their land area if the sea rises by 1 metre - which is not a remote possibility - but they're worried about alcohol and flights to Israel? Let's see whether Allah cares enough to stop global warming from submerging the whole archipelago.

Mon, 26 Dec 2011 20:08:09 UTC | #902815

Go to: I think we've been insulted by American book publishers

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 41 by brian thomson

I can't say I'm surprised. We're talking about the people who changed the title of the first Harry Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone", because they thought the audience would be scared away by "philosophy".

Tue, 05 Jul 2011 18:50:09 UTC | #846567

Go to: My Spiritual Journey

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by brian thomson

He makes a strong argument for secularism near the end, though:

What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy demands is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God's will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

I note also that he frames his involvement with religion as a choice, in terms of social issues, rather than any kind of religious epiphany or vision:

It was because of these newfound understandings — that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved — that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.

Some very diplomatic language there!

Wed, 27 Apr 2011 16:03:18 UTC | #619983

Go to: Biblical scholar's date for rapture: May 21, 2011

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 20 by brian thomson

What is it with Engineering and fundamentalism? This guy's an engineer ... Osama Bin Laden was an engineer ... Mohammad Atta (9/11 leader) was an engineer ... Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was an engineer ... the "crotch bomber" is an engineering student. I'm not the first to have noticed this correlation - see this article for example, and this.

Why do I find this scary? Because I'm studying Engineering!

Sat, 02 Jan 2010 22:58:00 UTC | #427837

Go to: Atheist Ireland Publishes 25 Blasphemous Quotes

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 55 by brian thomson

The site is back up: I think that would be the dreaded "Slashdot Effect", if this news was posted to Slashdot. Hey, there's an idea...

edit: done. Sorry, Mick ... now you can blame the Slashdot Effect. 8)

Fri, 01 Jan 2010 19:39:00 UTC | #427498

Go to: Textbook Disclaimers

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by brian thomson

A little more pedantry on the "spelt" thing: that usage is a past participle e.g. he spelled the words, and the words were spelt. It's like the difference between did and done - the latter is passive. In this case the previous commenter was referring to the words as they are on the page (passive voice), not the actions of their author, so spelt is fine.

Thu, 10 Dec 2009 11:25:00 UTC | #422198

Go to: Richard Dawkins' singing debut! Symphony of Science - 'Our Place in the Cosmos' (ft. Sagan, Dawkins, Kaku, Jastrow)

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 53 by brian thomson

I really appreciate the effort that goes in to making these videos, but I wouldn't mind hearing the occasional major chord! It just kind-of wafts along without grabbing your attention and pulling you in.

Tue, 24 Nov 2009 09:44:00 UTC | #416042

Go to: Sermon for All Saints' Day, Cologne Cathedral, 1st November 2009

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 57 by brian thomson

"But if the death of man has no dignity, then his life has no dignity either."

Nope, he really doesn't get it - how people around the world can create their own dignity, and validate their existence in every meaningful sense, if and when they are able to. No wonder he sounds insecure, if all his values are handed down from his religion: they're not HIS values then, they're his religion's values.

Fri, 06 Nov 2009 11:30:00 UTC | #411638

Go to: Things to check out now and to anticipate for later

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by brian thomson

Why not just link to ? "Constant Contact" is one of those 3rd-party companies to which people outsource their mailing lists, often without your consent. If you click on that link, that gets logged as "responding to email marketing". It probably puts a tracking cookie on your system, or worse - I say "probably" because I haven't clicked on that link, and I'm not going to.

Fri, 16 Oct 2009 11:30:00 UTC | #405921

Go to: The Greatest Show on Earth Book Tour Calendar

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by brian thomson

I'm still annoyed that the Dublin speech (at the RDS) is already sold out, despite never being announced on here at all. It was advertised through a print newspaper, and people had to SMS in for tickets. By the time anyone other than readers had heard about it, the tickets were all gone. So, I hope Dr. Dawkins is looking forward to speaking to an audience of Irish Times readers ...

Sat, 12 Sep 2009 11:52:00 UTC | #396252

Go to: The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 14 by brian thomson

No comments on the Grauniad site? I think the phrase Fortey was looking for was "Devil's Chaplain": which was the title of of one of RD's books, of course, based on a quote something Darwin said.

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 17:03:00 UTC | #394888

Go to: Religion and schools don't mix

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 19 by brian thomson

Bjorn wrote:

I believe in angels,
Something good in every thing I see.
I believe in angels,
When I know the time is right for me,
I'll cross the stream.
I have a dream.

Could be taken any number of ways ...

Thu, 27 Aug 2009 16:15:00 UTC | #392130

Go to: Brad Pitt: 'I'm probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic'

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 37 by brian thomson

At the risk of stating the obvious: if you think a question can not be answered (the agnostic position), then you don't think the answer to that question is either "yes" (or "no"). Ergo, Brad Pitt is 100% atheist. But hey, it's not my place to put words in someone else's mouth ...

Sun, 26 Jul 2009 10:24:00 UTC | #382309

Go to: Marcus Brigstocke - ANOTHER Great Religion Rant - ten commandments with funny pictures

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 8 by brian thomson

The Now Show is one of the Friday Night Comedy podcasts - downloadable here.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009 16:33:00 UTC | #380889

Go to: Tragic hero: Laurie Taylor interviews Terry Eagleton

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 32 by brian thomson

Eagleton: "a (liberal) humanism like Dawkins's and possibly that held by Hitchens isn't worth all that much. It's too easy."

If it's hard, it's only because we (humans) make things hard for ourselves, due to our collective stupidity. I look around the world, and I see so many things people doing things that we simply do not need to do.

If I may paraphrase Thom Yorke: "we do it to ourselves, we do. That's what really hurts." Simplify, simplify!

Sat, 18 Jul 2009 06:27:00 UTC | #380354

Go to: Dennett at the Darwin Festival

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 51 by brian thomson

Why is Theology a subject? Well, what else are smart-but-deluded people supposed to do? Architects know that you don't build on quicksand - at least, not before calling in the Civil Engineers to sink a foundation to something solid - but Theologists are the ones choosing to build castles in the air, with no need for foundations of any sort.

Let such people stay in Academia: it keeps them off the streets, away from such dangers as are found in the real world. I don't want them in manufacturing, construction, or government!

Fri, 10 Jul 2009 01:13:00 UTC | #377550

Go to: God and Science Don't Mix

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 45 by brian thomson

I've had the "free will" discussion with others recently, and I came to a couple of conclusions:
- it's important to understand the concept of randomness, or Stochasticity, as a recent Radiolab production put it. IMHO we see randomness where there isn't any, where the "model" is instead very-very-very complex.
- similarly, we might think we are exerting "free will", when what we have is the result of many overwhelmingly complex inputs and calculations. Even our perceptions of and questions about "free will" are the result of these processes.

The relevance to atheism comes from the idea that "free will" was given to us by the god, which looks to me like a get-out clause, to explain away non-believers or those who question the established religion. "No, there's no problem with our religion, this guy is just using his god-given 'free will', and will go to hell for it!"

Fri, 26 Jun 2009 09:47:00 UTC | #374025

Go to: Men in fancy hats set their priorities

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 21 by brian thomson

He might not be fat,
But he must have the hat
On the cranium sat;
What is up with that?

Sat, 23 May 2009 02:14:00 UTC | #363299

Go to: Noah's Flood Debunked

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 24 by brian thomson

One theory I heard was that the Mediterranean Sea was formed in a flood, long before Noah could have been around. According to this theory, the sea broke through from the Atlantic at Gibraltar, and filled the Mediterranean Basin in a matter of days. That's testable, though obviously not by taking samples from above sea level ...

Fri, 01 May 2009 11:49:00 UTC | #355301

Go to: Ankara Shows Its Hand

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by brian thomson

To be blunt: if they try that kind of tactic in an international forum, then Turkey's much vaunted secular status is dead, and probably has been for years. It had to happen, anyway, since a state should reflect the will of its people, and 99% of the people in Turkey are Muslim. I doubt that Obama has "permanently alienated" the French, though - I think they get that Obama is still finding his feet on the international stage.

Wed, 22 Apr 2009 11:35:00 UTC | #351781

Go to: Preacher says atheist ad campaign backfired

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 74 by brian thomson

"Even the last hope of rescue is taken away. Atheism is a luxury that only those with privileged lives can afford."

One context in which that statement makes sense is regarding Mother Teresa and her "cult of suffering".

If such suffering can be relieved, on a global scale, there's a risk that people would not turn to religion. Ergo: provide "succour", but don't do anything that permanently avoids or relieves suffering. Does this also explain Catholic attitudes towards HIV/AIDS prevention?

Sat, 11 Apr 2009 01:54:00 UTC | #346590

Go to: Did Darwin Kill God?

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 28 by brian thomson

Calling Prof. D a "crusader"? Bzzzt: you just failed the test I apply to every article of this type I see. Use a word with a religious connotations to describe an atheist, I stop reading. Adios.

Fri, 03 Apr 2009 13:22:00 UTC | #343517

Go to: The Richard Dawkins of Hollywood

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 15 by brian thomson

If you live without the visuals, you can get Real Time in audio podcast form, anywhere for no cost: the feed URL is
Comes out on Wednesdays - I'm hoping the new one arrives tonight. His guest list is pretty amazing, every week e.g. Madeleine Albright last week, though I'm not sure I want to hear "Joe The Plumber" this week...

Wed, 01 Apr 2009 12:21:00 UTC | #342600

Go to: Science is just one gene away from defeating religion

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by brian thomson

According to my schedule, the show is called "Christianity: A History", and is on at 7PM.

Sun, 22 Feb 2009 10:04:00 UTC | #328974

Go to: Jerry Coyne's 'Seeing and Believing' with responses

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 5 by brian thomson

Sam Harris's comment took some careful reading on my part, to be honest - and I'm still only 90% sure than he's actually putting out some multi-layered sarcasm there. I mean, asking "Why is the world organized in such a way that we can walk upon it?"... that's heavy, dude!

I don't hold out much hope of any comprehensive reconciliation between science and religion. That's not to say that individual people can't do both, but I think its epistemologically correct to say that if you're doing science, you're not doing religion - and vice versa. You can do just about anything in your head, but once you get out of your head in to the real world, you soon find yourself getting down to basics: what works, or not?

ps: in a weird coincidence, I'm listening to an interview with Jerry Coyne right now: not on the topics of science or religion, but regarding a botfly maggot he had embedded in his head ... in the Radiolab Podcast episode "Yellow Fluff".

Tue, 03 Feb 2009 12:13:00 UTC | #318140

Go to: Rush Music Video: Family Tree of Religions

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 6 by brian thomson

The title is a quote from "Team America: World Police": "Probably a case of Malignant Narcissism brought on during childhood." A good description of your average fundie, methinks.

Great image at the end, too: "Chuck D" with a bloody great big axe. "And the trees were all kept equal, by hatchet, axe, and saw."

Sun, 18 Jan 2009 11:11:00 UTC | #308123

Go to: Man refuses to drive 'No God' bus

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 26 by brian thomson

I guess that means you should avoid driving any bus with "probably" on it - as in the report here, eh?

A lager loving bus driver from Southampton has refused to drive a bus carrying the advertisement: "Carlsberg, the best beer in the world. Probably."

"Everyone knows that Czech Budweiser is probably the best beer in the world," said the bus driver. "I was shocked that anyone could ask me to drive a bus stating any other opinion.

Fri, 16 Jan 2009 15:07:00 UTC | #306889

Go to: Darwin 200

brian thomson's Avatar Jump to comment 9 by brian thomson

Nice plugging at the end there: book and website in one sentence! I suppose that some benefit must come from answering the same questions, over and over again...

Thu, 15 Jan 2009 16:41:00 UTC | #306256