Charlie Hebdo and Blasphemy: Pick Up Your Pen, Not Your Sword

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In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, January 7, 2015 in Paris, many opinions abound, and it becomes difficult to offer any unique insight of one’s own without being drowned out, or indeed, wondering if you should offer anything at all.

Opinions range from outright disgust and condemnation to stating that the cartoonists deserved it. But there also exists a slightly more insidious view:  that of condemning the killers and also condemning the cartoons. I have no doubt that people who say something along the lines of “While I condemn the killing, nobody should insult the Prophet” think they’re protecting all Muslims and their sensibilities. They’re also justifiably protecting themselves from reprisals. But perhaps this view deserves scrutiny in itself, and Tehmina Kazi does an excellent job of simply explaining some of the misconceptions that create such a position.

I would urge us, if we haven’t already, to think before acting, and to consider whether protecting rotten behavioural yardsticks such as blasphemy, even with the best of intentions, is the right thing to do. After all, lampooning religion isn’t done to upset the religious, but to challenge bad ideas.

Continue Reading this article at Atheist Republic.

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Nonreligious Ex-Soldier Denied Chance to Lay Remembrance Sunday Wreath

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I was once asked by the Stockport Humanists if I could present a wreath at the official Remembrance civic ceremony. I was extremely happy to help and also honoured to be asked to take part in a day that has particular importance to me and all other serving and non-serving military personnel past and present. Imagine my surprise to be contacted a little later and told that I was not allowed to lay a wreath as an official part of the ceremony to pay my respects. Certain individuals and organisations including The Rt Revd Robert Atwell have the opinion that “we remain clear that this is a religious ceremony and wish it to continue as such” (Jan 14th 2013). This is also particularly galling when bolstered in a recent telephone conversation by the words of one local Councillor who exclaims that there was “no stomach” to take on the church.

Continue reading this article at Atheist Republic.

Grateful to have recieved a response from Mark Hendrick MP with regards to this article.

Also on: Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science

UK Law Society Withdraws Practice Note on Sharia Succession

One Law for All Grey Scale

“The UK Law Society has rescinded its practice note relating to the drawing up of Sharia compliant wills. Such wills stated that “illegitimate and adopted children are not Sharia heirs. … The male heirs in most cases receive double the amount inherited by a female heir. … Non-Muslims may not inherit at all. … a divorced spouse is no longer a Sharia heir. …” This has been welcomed by many as the UK’s legal sector finally making a statement against the practicing of Sharia in Britain.

The campaign against the guidance included groups such as South Hall Black Sisters, One Law for All, and equality and social justice campaigners across a diverse scope of representation, from LGBT rights activist Peter Tatchell to feminist comedienne Kate Smurthwaite”

Continue reading this article at Atheist Republic

 

A Religion of Peace or War: Both Actually.

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Calling any religion, a religion of peace is a problem. We might wish they were, and our media takes every opportunity to tell us that they are despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but that isn’t the same as it being true. Blanket statements to the effect that they are, negate any need for criticism or improvement and for this reason are not just misleading, but dangerous. Tony Blair would have us believe that violence in the name of religion is  an ‘abuse of religion’ and a ‘perversion of faith.’ This is probably a well intentioned attempt at preserving community cohesion, but it’s anything but true as Ian Reader, a Professor of Religious Studies at Lancaster University succinctly points out. Such sentiments enable the ‘moderate’ believer to rest easy, knowing that they’re unlikely to have to change their opinions, but then the fanatic can equally believe that they don’t need to either, because after all, theirs is a religion of peace too.

Freedom of Religion, and Freedom from Religion

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Russell Brand’s Revolution And The Conspiracy Theory Link.

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Conspiracy theories and exponents of revolution have many holes in their arguments, even when they’re not as poorly made and detached from reality as when Russell Brand makes them. One of the main problems though, could be the mindset of the individual making all the noise themselves. Putting the word theorist after conspiracy, doesn’t then mean that an opinion becomes a testable hypotheses or is worth being taken seriously. Calling yourself a revolutionary, doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about, have a good heart, have the answers, or indeed, any solution at all. In Brand’s case, I don’t doubt that what he says comes from a good place, and I agree there needs to be a change in the way we live together in the world, but it needs to be actionable, and not just polemic that satisfies the idealistic – which is very difficult in the real world. I don’t discount everything he says, indeed, I’m impressed that he cares at all given his extremely privileged position as he might stand to lose out most. But, I’m skeptical of much of what he says for a few reasons.

One of the main problems if you identify as a conspiracy theorist, an anarchist, or a revolutionary, is that you tend to be against the ‘official’ narrative, whatever it is. It’s also possible that you’d object to many of the official positions and policies even if they’re beneficial, and any verdict surrounding unrelated events, even before there’s anything to object to, because you’ve primed yourself to. Another issue is the notion that you have to be open-minded to any alternative, whatever that option might be, even if it’s nonsense or just not feasible. However, without stretching the imagination, there are some theories that potentially have grains of truth to them: That aggressive financial lobbying for oil may have contributed in part to the Iraq war, or that the government are watching everything we do aren’t too far-fetched. There’s definitely a correlation between resources and war. And the government (and the media) are surely watching some of us, they have the technology, hopefully they’re focusing on terrorists though, but not me, I’m not interesting enough…. but maybe that’s what they want me to think!

A glaring worry here is that even if the idea is patently ridiculous, such as the belief that there was no moon landing (you must see Prof Brian Cox’s reaction), or that global warming is a government plot, people might be inclined to believe them, and their opinion becomes the norm: In short, you’re so open-minded that your brain falls out. This in turn leads to the conspiracy theorist often being more closed-minded than those they accuse of wearing blinkers. This is in part due to a rigid obedience to an overarching anti-authority attitude, and which people like Charlie Veitch who change their mind in such circles are vilified and threatened for deviating from. The notion that there must be something more sinister at play, and importantly that it must have been intentional rather than random is also prominent; A phenomenon psychologists call attribution error. Because of this, anything you want to cite as evidence propping up your theory doesn’t really need to be evidence, it just needs to fit with your particular schema, so things become proof through necessity, rather than them actually proving anything. And anything that is contrary to your view is discounted as merely part of the cover up or the establishment’s self-serving narrative.

Take 9/11. Many people, potentially even Brand by his own admission believe, for whatever reason, that the USA blew up the twin towers. Since then many other conspiracy theories abound regarding the USA’s part as an intentional and nefarious actor in many other domestic and foreign affairs. Many people concluded the Boston bombing was the work of the CIA, even before there was any evidence to go by. Alex Jones (who also knew Charlie Vietch mentioned previously, and made a film calling him a “psychopath” with “sociopath eyes” just for changing his views) at Info Wars in particular cites two men dressed in ‘off duty’ Seal attire as proof that it was an inside job, even before anyone really knew what was going on. And that’s what I’m talking about: Two men dressed in a particular way became evidence to fit the pre-existing mould of governmental suspicion, rather than actually being evidence in favour of any explanation of the event in question. By the way, I’m not saying don’t be suspicious of the government, we should be, we should hold them to account, but reasonably so, and actually have an alternative in mind rather than just waffle.

The final problem is that people who claim to be the archetype of open-mindedness (whatever that looks like), could be in their own way, just finding another source of information to swallow hook line and sinker. The lure of celebrity is powerful (it’s why I used a picture of Brand in this post and probably the only reason you’re reading this), and when someone so passionate seems to be fighting the good fight, then they must be right every time…. mustn’t they? In fact, some research shows that there is a link between conspiracy theories and feelings of political powerlessness and a reduced intention to engage in politics, so it might not be such a coincidence that Brand espouses both. It might actually be fear and despair that Brand is unintentionally stoking, rather than revolution or reform. If he’s serious about his politics, perhaps giving up is fortune and committing to focusing on his revolution would convince more of us that he is, now that would be a positive and self-less act.

It requires a huge amount of cognitive effort and attention, as well as an ability to constantly critique one’s own biases (which can be uncomfortable) to do all of the research on every issue you might be interested in. Thus, it’s much easier to watch the apparently open-minded Brand on the Trews because he mirrors your expectations, just like any other social, political, or religious ideologue you might follow. But be wary, you might actually be relying on being spoon fed and misled by such people, rather than actually do the research, vet the sources (including Brand, and governmental mouth pieces), use a critical eye, and truly come to your own conclusions in line with what is evidenced beyond reasonable doubt, and realistic in practice.

The NUS And Islamic State: Why Islamophobia And Imperialism Shouldn’t Mean Pacifism.

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The National Union of Students (NUS) won’t condemn Islamic State (IS), because it would be Islamophobic to do so, despite the proposal being tendered by a student of Kurdish descent. This tells us quite a bit about ‘Islamophobia,’ and the associated post-colonial rhetoric that stifles discourse on these issues, ultimately forcing people to be tolerant of the intolerant… lest they be branded intolerant. It also tells us that gross generalisations occur on both sides of an argument even by those claiming to be addressing them. Read the rest of this entry

Atheaholics Anonymous

Dear Member:

Thank you for showing an interest in our society. We really appreciate the time you took to speak to us and hope you will enjoy being part of our community here at UCLan. We will be having our first event this Wednesday 24.09.14 at 7pm entitled “Atheaholics Anonymous” where we will all be able to get to know each other better. Please meet us outside the Student’s Union.

Please take the time to look at our Facebook PageFacebook GroupTwitter Feed, and Website. Also, why not check out Project Science and Reason to see some of our past events.

Thanks again, and we look forward to seeing you all soon.

Kind Regards,

Glen (Chair)

 

Atheaholics Anonymous.

Moral Reasoning Research – What Will You Do?

I am a Masters by Research (MRES) student at the University of Central Lancashire under the supervision of Dr Lea Pilgrim, Dr Andrew Churchill, and Dr Mike Eslea. The following experiment asks you to fill in some basic demographic information, respond to a series of moral dilemmas and then complete a short questionnaire about personality traits. We anticipate this will take you approximately 25 minutes. We would ask you not to participate if you are under the age of 18. This study was ethically cleared by UCLan PSYSOC Ethics Committee under Reference Number: PSYSOC 159.

The dilemmas in some instances require you to make very difficult decisions which would involve the ‘death’ of hypothetical individuals described in the dilemma. Certain dilemmas also require you to make judgments on drug administration in a healthcare setting. Therefore we would advise that you do not participate if you think this may cause you distress. The personality questionnaire consists of over 60 questions that need to be answered honestly, and which look at how you feel about yourself, how you behave, and how you interact with others and the world around you such as: “I easily get bored.” You can withdraw your participation at any time by simply closing the browser window, after clicking the submit button withdrawal becomes impossible as your data will be anonymous.

The data we collect will be submitted for publication in a scientific journal and used in academic presentations and talks. You will not be able to be identified from the data due to its anonymity. Please feel free to contact the researchers with any questions.

If you are happy to proceed please indicate your willingness to do so, by clicking HERE.

Regards,Glen Andrew Carrigan, MBPsS | Senior Demonstrator | Bsc (Hons) Neuropsychology | Darwin Building 133 | GACarrigan@uclan.ac.ukDr Lea Pilgrim | Director of Studies | LPilgrim@uclan.ac.uk

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Hemispheric Differences in Facial Recognition

Poster (1)

This study has been ethically approved by The University of Central Lancashire.

Thank you for your interest in taking part in this study. I am a Graduate Diploma student conducting a project on hemispheric differences in facial recognition. For the task, faces will be presented on a computer screen. You will have to make a ‘same’ or ‘different’ judgment and press a button that reflects your choice. Your age and gender will be recorded.

Please be aware that you have the right to withdraw from this experiment at any point during the study. Due to the method of data collection, results will remain anonymous. Once you leave the laboratory, your data will be combined with previously collected data and therefore not possible to assign to a specific participant. As a result, once data has been submitted, it cannot be returned. Only the researcher, supervisor and examining body will see raw data.

If you still wish to participate in this experiment, please let the researcher know: Kimberley Ward: KWard1@uclan.ac.uk. If you wish to withdraw at this point, thank you for your time. Research slots are available from 9:00am – 11:00am. The experiment takes 10 minutes to complete.

 

Kimberley Ward

 

Moral, religious, psychopathic, or just human?

Glen Carrigan looks at the science of morality

Original article at British Humanist Association 07.07.2014

Science, increasingly, is answering questions which before only philosophers could attempt

Why doesn’t Microsoft Word recognise the word ‘Neuropsychology?’ Maybe because it’s a rather new field, although people have been musing on the workings of the physical brain for a very long time indeed – don’t worry though, we’re not trepanning people anymore!

My interest is the moral brain, how humans – and other animals to some degree – draw the distinction between right and wrong to organise society. Some argue that moral standards are axiomatic and that moral compasses come from god. There actually seems to be some truth to this, in that some absolutist standards like Thou Shalt Not Kill or the Golden Rule seem to be very intuitive – as is the notion that you’re somehow a social pariah if you play World of Warcraft. A paper by Baumard and Boyer called “Explaining Moral Religions” shows just how universal this is.

Is the Golden Rule any good though? Maybe, but you’re making your own narrow individual experience the basis for how you treat others. Wouldn’t it be better to ask them how they’d like to be treated? This should indeed be the case for issues such as assisted dying, where holding to Thou Shalt Not Kill diminishes the dignity and autonomy of a feeling, reflecting being. To hold dogmatic moral views also only works if you believe in god and that at least in some religions, you’re good to escape punishment in the hereafter, rather than for the sake of the here and now.

Far from being divine in origin, there seems to be a wealth of evidence showing us that being an individual yet social animal, with a big (relative to body size) and healthy brain, necessitates certain behaviours for us to flourish in a group. This then, gives rise to our need to discuss and reflect upon what it means to be a moral agent. You can see similar intuitive behavioural patterns to our own in other animals that operate in social groups. A wonderful example is the reciprocal behaviour of vampire bats, who seem to understand that a good deed (donating a regurgitated blood meal – stomach churning I know) deserves repayment. There is much converging evidence in evolutionary psychology that points to animals being the origin of their own ‘moral’ codes. But there are driving forces behind being a good egg other than reciprocity.

Throughout history philosophers have struggled with what constitutes the virtuous act. We notice that certain behaviours are predictable and wrong such as rape and rightly condemn people for it. We also need to accept that we make choices – if we have free will – and should be responsible for them. The fact that certain prohibitions are intuitive might suggest an in-built moral acquisition and refinement device (MARD) which is nurtured by social experience, emotion and reflection, rather than an omnipotent law giver. Perhaps we are actually responsible for the holy books that seek to have us tow the moral line – although we were managing to beforehand – in any event we seem to be the only species we know of that spends a great deal of time writing books telling ourselves to be good, that we’re special, and that we should be humble about it!

Neuropsychology can perhaps tell us a bit about this MARD and how we think, rather than what we should think here: We establish the social norms after all and what acts constitute deviance. The archetypal Psychopath seems to be deviant to many of us and this is why I study them. The fact is that we all have psychopathic traits along a spectrum; it’s just that some people have more pronounced, what the majority consider to be, morally deviant tendencies. Neuropsychology shows us that Psychopaths seem to have diminished empathic concern, as well as, fail to notice the importance of intention in a harmful act. Since it’s us that establish that intention to cause harm is worse than an accident (the difference between murder and manslaughter) we view psychopaths as morally deviant in society – perhaps their MARD is broken?

People often panic here and think that if we can predict someone will think and perhaps behave murderously then the notion of choice in society falls apart. It might, if you want Neuroscience to strip us of our humanity. In my view, although we could see why such people might be like this, that doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. What matters is that we discuss our options reflectively and organise society around us as moral beings that makes choices, with a sense of responsibility, and who can be punished for transgressions, rather than allowing my brain made me do it as an alibi in all cases where mental instability is an issue. It’s also worth pointing out that most psychopaths actually don’t run around murdering people like Heath Ledger in Batman!

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